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13th Surgicorps Mission to Bhutan: Why We Do it! In the words of Merelise O’Connor

The 13th surgical mission to Bhutan resulted in 118 patients being screened and 60 people receiving surgery.  In addition, 168 people received knee injections to ease hard-working, arthritic joints.  Bhutan is truly a magical, mythical place and the Bhutanese are quiet, humble and lovely people.  To be involved in this work is moving, gratifying and eye-opening for the volunteers who make the journey. In the face of discomfort and long waiting times the patients and their family members are deeply appreciative for the important, life-changing surgery provided by Surgicorps International.  Here are some of their stories:

Dawa Tshering is a 60 year old farmer who lives south of Paro in a town called Shaba.  He lives with his wife at a higher elevation than his relatives.  One early evening about 6 months ago he was making his way down the hill to see his relatives, walking on a path with tall bushes and beside a drain trough.  He saw a black animal that he thought was a wild boar, so he shouted at it.   It wasn’t a boar after all; it was a Himalayan black bear and very dangerous!!

The bear swiped its powerful and sharp claws at him and took off his right ear.  He was knocked down a small bank into a rice paddy.  That may have been good fortune because the bear shuffled away instead of continuing the attack.  He was in shock and did not realize the extent of his injuries.  He returned home but then saw how much he was bleeding.  He called his niece, Gyem, and told her he had been “eaten” by a bear.  She thought the attack was ongoing and in panic, sent out a group of men on foot to rescue Dawa.  Realizing he was home and now safe, his relatives cleaned the wound and took him to the hospital.  The surgeons asked for the ear and the family located it and brought it back to Thimphu in a jar.  It had been outside on the ground overnight and it was too late to reattach it. The family provided a proper spiritual ending to the severed body part by setting it afloat in the Thimphu River.  The initial repair treatment closed the ear canal leaving him quite deaf.  Dawa was fairly anxious about a surgery but was hoping it would result in improved hearing.  The Surgicorps’ surgeon reconstructed his ear canal to enlarge it. The following morning when doctors were making rounds, he was smiling broadly and telling us that he could hear again! 

Kul Bahadur Tamang is 47, from Samdrup Jongkhar, in the southeast, two days driving distance from Paro.  He is a switchboard operator at a Bhutan Power Corporation.  When he was 5 or 6 years old, he was out with a group of other children to attend to the cattle grazing, without adult supervision.  The kids started a fire and he must have been too close.  His t-shirt caught on fire.  The kids were able to put the fire out, remove his shirt and take him home.  Thankfully, he does not remember the pain of the extensive burn under his right arm.  Burn scars contract over the years and this man had not been able to lift his arm up over his head for some time.  The skin in his armpit had been stretched to the point that it appeared webbed between his upper arm and his torso.  Doctors were able to release the contracture and he is currently in the process of healing.  He and his wife Sukreni are very glad that this surgery will help him have greater mobility.

Update on Sonam Rigsel Dorji:  Those who follow the Bhutan blog will remember the little boy who had severe burns and extensive scaring on his legs.  He was first treated by Surgicorps doctors in 2016 and his mother, Tshering, made the 2-day journey to Paro with Sonam and his little sister for continued treatment in 2017 and in 2018.  It required a series of surgeries to release the burn scar, remove scar tissue and graft new skin to the sites. Sonam appeared at the hospital for a review by the doctors again this year.  He was walking easily, running, jumping, bending over and kicking a soccer ball around.  He reported that there was nothing bothering him, and Dr. Demos declared his treatment a success.  His mother cried grateful tears and expressed her heartfelt appreciation for the medical repair work that has resulted in full mobility for her young son.

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