Opportunity is everything. Surgicorps gave me an opportunity to travel to Zambia in April 2023. That opportunity turned out to be a gift—a chance to meet and learn from the Surgicorps team, the staff at Beit CURE Children’s Hospital of Zambia, and the patients and their families.
The opportunity to receive treatment from a surgeon in the U.S. is available if a child is born without all the bones in her forearms necessary to hold her hands straight or born with fingers or toes fused together or an extra digit or two. And the opportunity for treatment is readily available in the U.S. if a child suffers severe burns—treatment that minimizes scarring and the loss of mobility. In Zambia, however, the opportunity for treatment is limited. More than ten years ago, Jack Demos, the founder of Surgicorps, saw the need in Zambia, and just as he has done in other places around the world, he set out to provide opportunities for children to get the surgery they need. April 2023 was Dr. Demos’s 13th mission trip to Zambia. Surgicorps now has given hundreds of Zambian children the opportunity to live more confidently, with less pain and more freedom of movement.
DeNese Olson coordinated the April 2023 trip and ran the mission with exceptional grace and compassion—and like a well-oiled machine. The Surgicorps team which included Jack, DeNese, Anne, David, Aamir, Tom, Kelsey, Scott, Pete, Jacob, Eric, Kate, Jenny, Kelly, Lori, Jenn, Lesley, Elizabeth, Lonnie, and Agnus went above and beyond and used their skills to provide opportunities to others in extraordinary ways. In Zambia, they dedicated themselves to providing the same excellent quality of care their patients receive in the U.S.
The week in Zambia began with screening day, when more than 150 children came to be evaluated for surgery. I worried that some would be turned away, but only those for whom surgery was not medically indicated and those who were told to come back for a specific kind of surgery when Surgicorps returns in September were sent home. Surgicorps gave everyone else—81 children—an opportunity to receive the surgery they needed. The medical team, with the assistance of the Beit CURE staff, treated them all with great skill and compassion.
All of these children were memorable, but one will stick with me forever. On screening day, Jeff walked into the evaluation room wearing a long-sleeved hoodie with the hood up, covering most of his head and face. He didn’t complain about the burn scars on his face, neck, arms and chest, or the large keloids on his ears—he covered them up, but he didn’t complain. He didn’t complain about the accident that left these scars, the horrific pain he had suffered, or the inability to fully lift his arms because of the scarring. We tapped a ball back and forth to pass the time as he waited for surgery, and after surgery, he taught me how to play Crazy Eights. He didn’t complain before the surgery, and he didn’t complain after surgery, even though surgery meant cutting his ears, under his arms, and near his elbow and taking a graft from his leg. Without saying anything, he taught me what resiliency and strength look like.
Before the Surgicorps team left Zambia, we joined the Beit CURE staff for a celebration of the week’s accomplishments, and Jeff danced with the Surgicorps team, wearing a sleeveless shirt, no hoodie, and a smile. I’m grateful that I was given the opportunity to meet Jeff and the other children and see the opportunities and joy that the Surgicorps medical team gave them.