Surgicorps International – A Dozen Years Providing Care to the People of Bhutan By Merelise O’Connor, 2018 Volunteer
Aside from the serious business of screening 98 new patients to evaluate how the doctors might be able to help them, there is the excitement of reunion in the air as well. Doctors and volunteers look forward to seeing the progress of former patients returning for additional treatment. The Surgicorps medical team looks forward to seeing the Bhutanese hospital staff and the guides and translators who work so closely to make the 10-day mission a success.
In 2018, Surgicorps treated 59 patients with conditions such as cleft lips and palates, burn scars, injuries from bear maulings and other afflictions. Some of these conditions are worse for having gone untreated for years and even decades. There is no practicing plastic surgeon in the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Sonam is 6 years old now, finishing first grade and playing hard with other kids at school. He lives with his family 2 days from the hospital by bus journey. He is a loveable, personable boy who suffered terrible burns on his upper posterior legs when he was just 4. Sonam, his sister Pema and his mom Tshering have become friends of the SI team, because they are lovely and because we have seen so much of them at the Paro Hospital. See Surgicorps 2016 blog post: https://surgicorps.org/2017/01/11/a-mothers-fierce-love-bhutan-surgicorps-2016/
Dr. Jack Demos has performed procedures on Sonam three times now, releasing scar contracture and removing scar tissue so that he can straighten his legs and regain mobility and flexibility. Just before the surgery this year, he was kicking a soccer ball around in the waiting area, a happy, active kid.
After this surgery in May 2018, Sonam was observed, bandaged and his leg placed in a splint so he would keep it straight for at least 6 weeks so the skin grafts heal. He remained in the hospital for nearly a week before being carefully loaded into a small cab with his family to start the long trip home.
Oh, and he had a very special visitor – Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck – while he was recovering!!
Lugay’s story is tragic and moving. Lugay went out early one morning about 2 and a half years ago to retrieve firewood and was attacked by a Himalayan black bear. Her cub was nearby. Lugay’s horrific injuries from being bitten and mauled were on his head and face. He was able to kick the bear away and escaped. He ran 10-15 minutes to get home, calling his wife Euden on the way. She met him and immediately took him to the hospital via ambulance. He has had 11 surgeries and spent 9 months at a specialty hospital in India, spending all of his $9,000 savings, which had been intended for a new house.
Lugay has great support in two grown sons who are helping with his farm and a very loving wife. Their genuine affection was apparent, even in Bhutan where people do not typically publically display tenderness for each other.
Doctors were able to improve Lugay’s facial injuries and appearance by remodeling his upper lip and removing a piece of plastic that had been inserted in his nose. He will require additional medical treatment to repair a slit in his lip and Surgicorps would like him to return next year for follow up.
Euden said that her husband was more important than a new house and Lugay said immediately that the work on his face doesn’t have to be perfect, but when he is more functional, he intends to earn enough money again to build her that house.
This is Lugay and Euden a few days post surgery.
Pema Lhamo is a 12 year old who was burned accidently by a big pot of hot water when she was 7 years old. She lives in Thimphu now, but her parents had relocated to Australia for several years to obtain degrees in education. Both are educators and speak English very well. Pema has had three skin grafts already in her young life and Surgicorps was able to provide her with occupational therapy in the form of chest scar remodeling. Pema’s parents will ensure that she is treated and is as comfortable as possible given the extent of the scarring on her chest.
The people of Bhutan are patient, deferential, stoic and unassuming. They are lovely. Most of the folks have so little compared with those of us who live in the US. These patients and their families express deep appreciation that Surgicorps makes an annual “trek” to bring hope and caring medical treatment to improve their lives. It is humbling and moving to be a part of Surgicorps!
Surgicorps will embark on the second surgical mission to Astana, Kazakhstan from June 16 – June 23, 2018. There are a total of 12 team members including 6 from Pennsylvania and 6 from other states. Surgicorps will partner with the Asyl Bala Foundation in order to provide services at the University Medical Center, affiliate of the National Research Center for Maternal and Child Health in Astana.
The veteran team members include Bill and Donna Bookwalter, Lori Ellis, Betty Hearne, Derrin Jarvis, Paul Kim, Guy Leone, and Ron Stiller. Surgicorps founder, Jack Demos will be the Medical Director and DeNese Olson, our Director of Operations and Outreach, will serve as the Trip Coordinator. Tamara Rychok will be our Medical Coordinator. Welcome to new volunteer Neil Sachanandani!
We look forward to returning to Astana and providing services to many patients in need. Please follow us on social media for trip updates and pictures.
Safe travels Team Kazakhstan!
Surgicorps will embark on our 12th visit to Paro, Bhutan from May 5 to May 15, 2018. A total of 15 talented team members including 6 from Pennsylvania and 9 from other states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York) will participate in fulfilling our mission of providing free surgical and medical services to people in need around the world.
We have ten previous Surgicorps volunteers: Michael Best, Diane Bremer, Merelise O’Connor, Naomi Quillopa, Warren Schubert, Aamir Siddiqui, and Ron Stiller; plus Surgicorps founder and trip Medical Director, Jack Demos; and Trip Coordinators DeNese Olson (Surgicorps staff) and volunteer Mary Bernacki.
Joining these experienced folks, we welcome six new volunteers: Sandy Abdelahad, Kathleen Coy, Ayse Fidan Genc, Toni Harris and Emily Mlot. We look forward to once again serving our friends in Bhutan at the Paro Hospital, providing life-improving surgeries to many patients and continuing relationships and experiences that reward everyone involved.
Please follow us on social media for trip updates and pictures. Safe travels, Team Bhutan!
Vietnam 2017 by Derrin Jarvis
I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the 27 team members who traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in October 2017 to volunteer at the Odonto Maxillo Facial Hospital with the group Surgicorps International. The group was comprised of medical and non-medical volunteers with an aim to provide free surgical and medical care to those in need. This trip was Surgicorps International’s 15th trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Throughout the week the group successfully ran three operating rooms and completed approximately 65 plastic reconstructive surgeries on Vietnamese patients.
I specifically remember one patient, a young 13-year-old girl that had sustained severe burns from a propane tank explosion and my encounter with her. She had scars and contractures all over her face and arms, and barely half of a scalp of hair. I developed a habit of holding the children’s hands while they were receiving anesthesia; about to fall asleep and have foreigners who spoke an unknown language cut into their skin and alter their body. As I stood next to this little girl holding her hand, I noticed tears streaming down her face and a pure look of fear in her eyes. She began crying and withdrawing her arm from the anesthesiologist as he attempted to place an IV. Finally, an interpreter became available and told us that the small girl was saying the she was scared of the needle from the IV. I immediately felt an overwhelming rush of emotion, and felt tears welling in my own eyes as I realized that this was a normal thing for a child to be afraid of: a needle. But this little girl had sustained more pain and fear already than would be expected in any person’s lifetime. As she drifted off to sleep, I continued to hold her hand and held back the tears, being humbled by the strength within this small child.
I feel very lucky that I was able to lend my skills in the service of others as a part of Surgicorps’ mission to Vietnam. Unfortunately there are many people, like this young girl I met all over the world who have suffered more than most of us can imagine. As healthcare providers, we can make a massive difference in other’s lives. If you cannot travel to another country like Vietnam and volunteer skills, please consider providing a warm smile or a comforting touch to your next patient—it may make all the difference.
Surgicorps will embark on the first surgical mission to the Independent State of Samoa from February 23 to March 2, 2018. There are a total of 15 team members including 7 from Pennsylvania and 8 from other states. Surgicorps will be working at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital in Apia.
The veteran team members include Anne Argenta, Christine Bowman, Tomasina Boyd, Tara Burns, Lori Ellis, Jim Fleck, Nancy Gilbert, Michele Misher-Harris, David Kim, Allison Krefetz, Guy Leone, Karen Pitbladdo, and Judy Traister. Surgicorps founder, Jack Demos, will be the Medical Director and Linda Esposto, our International Field Work Manager, will serve as the Trip Coordinator.
We look forward to our first surgical mission in Samoa and providing services to many patients in need. Please follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for trip updates and pictures.
Safe travels Team Samoa as you set out to change many lives!
When Surgicorps arrives at the CURE Hospital in Lusaka, Zambia, families travel from all over the country to see surgeons that change the lives of their injured children. During that week, limbs that are contracted with scars from burns, snakebites or other injuries are released, enabling children to walk, and use their hands. In turn, they can return to school, play, and grow up to be a vital member of their community.
Healing takes months, and without correct positioning and exercise during the healing process the problem can return. What happens after the doctors leave?
Surgeons correct the anatomy, and it is the job of the Occupational Therapist/ Certified Hand Therapists to teach the patients and families what to do to get the best result from the surgery. The therapists fabricate custom splints to position a limb that had surgery so the contracture will not return. They may be called “hand therapists”, but they make splints for legs, necks and shoulders too. Last year over 80 children benefited from their expert services in Lusaka alone.
The OT’s work with the children and families a few times during the week to provide instruction in taking care of the splint, how to massage a scar to keep it soft, and in specific exercises to get the most motion possible. If needed, they can make assistive devices to help children with limited grasp, hold a fork or spoon, or write. They teach the staff at CURE how to do this for all children that come to the hospital. For those children who live too far away, the Surgicorps therapists provide email contact to answer questions, solve problems, and help guide the parents through their six-month journey to full recovery.
The success of splinting and home therapy is seen a year later when Surgicorps returns and familiar faces appear, showing off the triumph of their operations. It is heartwarming to know that such a dedicated team of people from far away continents can work together to bring life altering changes to the children of Zambia. It’s the smile on the faces of these children that keeps us coming back!
Through the generosity of many, a total of $125,000 has been received or pledged to date toward our goal of $150,000. Thank you to those who’ve already responded. Your gift in honor of Linda’s years of dedicated service to Surgicorps has been matched by the Demos Family, and will result in increased service to those in need around the world now and in the future. A list of contributors to date may be found here.
Once funded, the Linda Esposto Legacy Fund will provide annual allocations to support the following: 1) one-time or multi-year capacity-building investments in the countries we serve such as equipment and/or facility enhancements; 2) volunteer service recognition in the form of trip subsidies for future travel; 3) the development of our Exploratory Travel program to fund regular exploratory travel and the potential for more annual trips in the future; and 4) funding for special needs and/or initiatives to help us respond to challenges and opportunities. Read the full message from Jack Demos here.
Surgicorps International is packed and ready to leave next week for our 15th trip to Vietnam from October 27th-November 7th with 27 medical and non-medical team members. This will be our final trip of 2017.
We will once again partner with Odonto Maxillo Facial Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Our team members hail from Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Washington.
Return team members include Thanh Armagost, Tu Armagost, Neal Armagost, Bill Bookwalter, Donna Bookwalter, Will Bookwalter, Christine Bowman, Tara Burns, Christine Depenthal, Jim Fleck, Rama Joshi, John Merrill, Jim Moses, Susan Moses, Khoa Nguyen, Duc Pham, Jimmy Ricciardi, Nicole Verdecchia, and Gary Wingate.
We welcome several new team members this year as well: Breck Fresen, Derrin Jarvis, Jeff Mapson, Sharon Ricciardi, Sharon Rohr, and Becca Selah.
Surgicorps will once again offer a vision clinic and distribute hundreds of prescription and reading glasses in country.
Jack Demos will lead the team as Medical Director and Linda Esposto will ensure things run smoothly on all fronts as our Trip Coordinator.
Best wishes team Vietnam 2017 as you set out to change many lives. Stay tuned and follow us, for trip updates and pictures, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
I carefully listened to Linda Esposto on Guatemala “packing day “in the Surgicorps office about the list of incidentals to remember for the trip: what to bring, what not to eat or drink, about the hotel, the hospital, the crew and so on. As an anxious first-timer trying to be well prepared, I asked past team members, what to expect. Key suggestions: purchase a nice sized backpack, bring clothes you are prepared to leave behind for the Guatemalan people and, as Linda said many times, “Guard your medical bag with your life!” I felt prepared, but nervous for the unknown.
I met my first Surgicorps team members at the United check- in line in Pittsburgh. Jodie, a surgical nurse and Katie a nurse anesthetist, greeted both my son Jono, 17, also a first-timer and I with bright smiles at four o’clock in the morning. Later we met a friendly young woman Amelia, a senior at Penn State as we headed to security. Amelia was making her fourth trip to Guatemala as a Spanish translator. “Go this way, you’re already TSA Prechecked, see? Most Surgicorps medical mission travelers are TSA PRE-checked and you will go through security fast.” Amelia said with a smile. The teammate connections and relationships were already beginning.
As my son and I walked to the gate we discussed our meeting of two nurses and a translator, both valuable team members offering a skilled service. What would we, a stay at home mom and a rising high school senior with average Spanish capabilities, be able to contribute on this medical mission I wondered?
When we arrived at baggage claim in Guatemala, Surgicorps’s team members from Pittsburgh, Boston and New York gathered. I saw a red headed woman with a Boston accent taking charge collecting the medical bags on a cart. Anxious that our medical bags were getting hijacked, I stopped the woman in action only to find out she was Stephanie Charron, the trip coordinator. She assured me, all was safe and sound.
Monday was patient screening day. A busy day for both medical and non-medical team members. All Surgicorps members met at Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro Hospital cafeteria to review the rules, regulations and procedures of the hospital. Once completed, we headed upstairs to be greeted by masses of patients-in-waiting. Beautiful Guatemalan families with eager looking and gentle faces filled the chairs that lined the walls of the open-air quadrangle. My son and I were assigned to take Polaroid photos of every patient, assign them a number and secure a wrist band with that same number. The patients were young, old and many were shy, but they were always trusting. It only took a gentle touch to their shoulder with a smile and simple Spanish phrases like like “muy bonita” (very pretty) and Jono and I would have a new friend. It was a hectic and fast-paced day. When time permitted in between photos, we supplied coloring books, crayons, and a few treats to distract the younger ones as they waited. The photographed patients went on to be evaluated by the various surgeons and anesthesiologists for potential surgeries.
Monday through Friday were surgery days. White hand-written papers of operating room surgical schedules dawned the walls explaining who was getting what surgery, with which surgeon, and at what time. I recognized several of the names on theses schedules as those I had connected with during screening. Our job – Jono and me — was to comfort and ease any fears in the pre-operative waiting area, and assist the nurses taking vital of patients in post-operative.
Pre-op could be difficult as often patients had a long wait time. It isn’t particularly easy for a toddler to lay waiting for an hour or longer to be rolled into surgery.It was even more difficult for the young mothers who waited nervously with their children. My son and I would divert their attention with iPad games or just a game of peek-a-boo. We made sure not to neglect the young mothers with smiles and hugs to ease their fears. Jono and I made a lot of fast friends on surgery days: Yeichler, Jamie, Juan, Eugenia and Javier are some of the patients we remember fondly and miss now, months after the trip ended.
Friday, the last night, was a very special one as the entire team is treated to a beautiful dinner.. The restaurant was in a beautiful old Spanish building with each room alluringly enhanced by candlelight. As I went to sit down next to my son, I realized both the seats on either side were occupied. His table was full of Surgicorps team members he had grown close with in just a week’s time and he was fully immersed in conversation with them. His new friends are some of the most interesting people we have ever met. Jono had many things to talk about with them, like their global travel experiences, new food they tried, what it’s like being in medical school and the surgical transformations they’ve completed for the Guatemalan people they’ve befriended. Many of the younger team members were college students serving as Spanish translators. Jono, a Spanish student hopes to be able to speak the language fluently someday soon. The translators were happy to answer his questions on how to become so comfortable with conversational Spanish. They suggested watching Spanish movies with English sub-titles and listening to Spanish music.
I found a seat at another table with team who have become new friends. I sat next to the Medical Director of the mission, Dr. David Kim, from Boston, an esteemed plastic surgeon who transformed many hand deformities during the week. After an amazing meal, he stood to share a few words with all of us. He said when he saw our team together there was something special about it and the bonds would be strong by Friday. We all felt it. It was something I didn’t expect.
As a non-medical team member who went on this adventure with a teen son, nothing was more gratifying for me than to see Jono’s excitement to fulfill a dream he had had for quite a few years. To have the privilege to go on such a mission together, was the epitome of spending quality time with my child. To see him flourish and grow in this climate in all he had done and been exposed to during the week was again an unknown that exceeded my preconceived notions. Surgicorps provided an opportunity like no other he had ever had that opened a door to a world outside of his own suburban walls. But it was there in Guatemala, helping, easing people’s pains, bonding, learning, that I saw he had a purpose and a place he felt personal satisfaction and gave birth to a desire for more experiences like it.
Surgicorps’ 7th trip to Zambia is ready to go! We leave on September 16th and return on the 23rd with 20 medical and non-medical team members. We look forward to partnering again with Beit CURE International Children’s Hospital in Lusaka. Our team members hail from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, California, Colorado, Florida and Wisconsin.
Our returning volunteers include Anne Argenta, Diane Bremer, Rita DiFrancesco, Betty Hearne, Alex Hutchinson, David Kim, Lauren McGrath, Richard Montilla, Bernadette Montilla, Megan Natali, Lynn Novier, Scott Pearson, Modupe Sonuyi, Alyson Winston and Charles Yang.
A warm welcome to our new team members this year: Ian Brotman and Leah Tedder.
Jack Demos returns as Medical Director and DeNese Olson, our Director of Operations, is the Trip Coordinator. Lori Ellis will be making her 11th trip and is serving as Medical Coordinator.
Thank you Team Zambia for helping Surgicorps serve people in need in Lusaka. Stay tuned and follow us, for trip updates and pictures, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram!
Surgicorps is preparing for our 15th trip to Guatemala from August 5th-12th with a team of 35 dedicated medical and non-medical volunteers. Our team this year includes: 13 members from Pennsylvania, 14 from Massachusetts, 2 from California, 3 from New York and 2 from and Colorado and 1 from Florida.
Surgicorps looks forward to working with hospital staff at the Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro Hospital again in Antigua and seeing old friends while meeting many new patients on screening day.
Previous Surgicorps team members include Dylan Anthony, Reza Borna, Kevin Cohen, Amelia Hare, Amy Hatch, Dave Metro, Mario Metro, Richard Montilla, Farzaneh Nabizadeh, Victor Nieto, Katie Respet and Carolyn Terman.
We welcome several new team members this year as well: Patricia Avis, Cathy Boyle, Lytia Fisher, Anne Hardart, Livia Jaen, Linda Levy, Meghan Lauze, Emily Metro, Christine Miller, Alexandria Montilla, Julie Myslinski, MJ Pelusi, Jonathan Pelusi, Julia Poppenberg, Lyla Sax, Robert Slamin, Sara Straesser, Lisa Szuksta, Walter Szuksta, Nicole Verdecchia, Jodi Yingling.
David Kim returns as Medical Director and Stephanie Charron will be the Trip Coordinator.
Surgicorps launched the Bon Voyage Crowdrise fundraiser again and several team members are participating in raising funds to support our general Guatemala fund. These donations support the purchase of medical supplies and shipping costs amongst other expenses. Thank you to all team members who are sharing the Crowdrise page on their personal pages!
Surgicorps is grateful to these generous individuals who help make our shared mission of serving individuals in need around the world possible through their commitment of time, energy and resources. Stay tuned and follow us, for trip updates and pictures, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
To spend precious moments over several days talking with the patients and families was deeply enriching for me during my inaugural trip with Surgicorps International. They displayed quiet stoicism and great courage. Their surgical needs were the result of injuries, burns and birth defects that caused speech and hearing problems. Many of these Bhutanese people traveled from villages hours and even 3-4 days on buses to arrive at the Paro Hospital. Of the 52 patients treated by Surgicorps, Sonam, mauled by a bear, burn victim, Kuenden, and bilateral cleft patient, Janyang are typical of the people who are treated.
Sonam was attacked by a bear, in 2007, when she was just 14 years old and is the youngest of 7 children. She lives in the eastern region of Bhutan. Her parents are still alive and are farmers. Sonam was walking the 30 minutes to non-formal education (NFE) where people who may not have had the chance to go to school at an early age may learn the basics. She was all alone and the attack was sudden and from behind. She never heard it and didn’t see it coming. Sonam felt the bear maul her face, fainted and fell to the ground. While she was unconscious, the bear dragged her from the road about 25 feet into the woods. She felt lucky that the bear left her right next to a cliff and didn’t drag her or toss her off the cliff. Her injuries were on her right lower leg, left back of the head, her nose and face and her right ear. The claw marks are still visible on her knees. When she awoke, she walked 10-15 minutes to her friend’s house who then notified her parents. An ambulance was called and transported her 3 hours to the Mongar hospital. She was in the hospital for 8 days. Fortunately, her family was alerted that Surgicorps was in Paro and could help. She traveled 16 hours in the ambulance to receive treatment in 2007. For this ongoing reconstructive surgery, Sonam travels 2 days by bus to get to Paro.
Now 24, Sonam is married to Gyembola and has a 4 year old son. She “has a good life.” Her husband takes good care of her. She is so grateful to Surgicorps for the treatment she receives and that Surgicorps has made her a “proper nose.” Sonam went on to thank the doctors, the hospital, Tarayana Foundation, the whole team for giving her a second life. If not for Surgicorps, she doesn’t think that she would have lived. It is a dream come true, a miracle. The Surgicorps team is like a “god” to her.
Kuenden, 2 years and 5 months old. His mom is Yangchen, 24 years old. His dad is a teacher on the primary level. Kuenden suffered a burn injury to the hand when he was 1 + years old by accidently touching an electrical heater while his father was repairing it. His mom was in the kitchen doing dishes when this happened. This accident happened in Paro, but the family lives in Samtsi, in southwest Bhutan. It took her 8 hours on a bus to get to Paro. Yangchen expressed her happiness that her son’s hand could be repaired by surgery. She couldn’t ever imagine his hand could be treated, but had been hoping for it and heard about Surgicorps on the news channel. She thinks Surgicorps International does a great job!
Janyang, age 5 months has a bilateral cleft lip. Her mom has said that people are sympathetic towards her. The family lives in Paro, only a 20-minute drive to the hospital. Tshewang is 29 years old. She heard on the news that Surgicorps was coming to the hospital. She is grateful and could not imagine a person “like me” getting treatment for her daughter. She says thank you to Surgicorps for coming to Bhutan and for providing treatment to people at no cost.
The patients and the families were calm and patient while waiting outside for hours. They asked for nothing and consider the work of Surgicorps to be miraculous. It brings value to their lives beyond their wildest expectations in Bhutan.
Surgicorps will embark on the first surgical mission to Astana, Kazakhstan from May 19-May 25, 2017. There are a total of 10 team members including 4 from Pennsylvania and 6 from other states. Surgicorps will partner with the Asyl Bala Foundation in order to provide services at the University Medical Center, affiliate of the National Research Center for Maternal and Child Health in Astana.
The veteran team members include Tara Burns, Melinda Handler, Betty Hearne, David Kim, Guy Leone, Aamir Siddiqui, James Terman and Anna Wooten. Surgicorps founder, Jack Demos, will be the Medical Director and Linda Esposto, our Director of Programs and Logistics, will serve as the Trip Coordinator.
We look forward to our first surgical mission in Astana and providing services to many patients in need. The types of procedures performed will include hand surgery, burn scar contractures and birth deformities. Please follow us on social media for trip updates and pictures.
Safe travels Team Kazakhstan!
Surgicorps will embark on the 3rd Annual Sarah Pettrone Memorial Trip, which will be our 11th visit to Bhutan from April 22-May 2, 2017. There are a total of 21 talented team members including 10 from Pennsylvania and 11 from other states.
There are 15 veteran Surgicorps volunteers. Anne Argenta, Sheryl Lamb, Donald Laub, Maggie Mangham, Naomi Quillopa, Warren Schubert, Ron Stiller and Charles Yang. First-timers include: Andrew Berenato, Agnus Berenato, Olivia Cimba and Rama Joshi. Surgicorps founder, Jack Demos, will be the Medical Director; staff member Liam Carstens and volunteer Mary Bernacki will serve as Trip Coordinators.
We are pleased to welcome Ryan Bradley, Jessica Cassavaugh, Marina Carmody, Karen Gallagher, Merelise O’Connor and Matt Recker to their first Surgicorps trip. We look forward to once again serving our friends in Bhutan. Please follow us on social media for trip updates and pictures.
Safe travels Team Bhutan!
It’s been three months since our team has returned from Vietnam. As with all of Surgicorps’ trips, it was one filled with joy, and with sorrow. On screening day, the physicians walk into a room bursting with children that have cleft lips and palates, missing ears, and faces distorted from disease. There is never a shortage of dreadful and disfiguring burns; most are due to lack of proper kitchens and dangerous surroundings in rural homes. Performing life-changing surgery on people so desperately in need brings joy to everyone. Occasionally a patient must be turned away because of high risk, or because the hospital lacks the proper facilities necessary to proceed. When the doctors have to turn someone away, for any reason, there is no greater sorrow.
Surgicorps introduced a new vision program on this trip, and I was privileged to be a part of it. A team of six non-medical volunteers, spent three days at a Vision Clinic in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Hundreds of people made their way to us, many by foot, for the chance to be fitted for a simple pair of eyeglasses. Through the generous support of Dr. Larry Butler and the Global Brigade University of Pittsburgh students, 2,000 pairs of distance glasses were donated and then tediously bagged, according to strengths. This was in addition to 600 pairs of readers that we carried in huge duffle bags.
With Godspeed (and the help of interpreters) the six of us took a crash-course in basic optometry and learned how to refract eyes, chart the findings, and fit people with both distance and reader glasses. Not uncommon in many developing countries, most of the patients that we screened did not speak a word of English. Local students who studied at the clinic helped us to screen and direct the sea of people that waited, some for hours, in the hopes that they would see clearly again.
Many of these people had never been to an eye doctor before, or even had their vision tested. Our eyes watched in amazement, as some of them were able to read text for the first time in years, or look across a room that would suddenly come into focus. We cried with them over the sheer joy of having their eyesight improved, something that is so basic in the United States. They hugged and thanked us, as if we had performed a miracle.
With the simple gift of distance glasses, people were jubilant as they walked about the room. We learned that one woman hadn’t been able to read her beloved newspaper in over a decade. Some of the elderly were suffering from cataracts, so without surgery they couldn’t be helped in this modest setting. They graciously left with a smile and a thank you, and for them we had a table of sunglasses. No one went home empty handed, least of all, us. We flew home with smiling eyes, knowing that 775 people had renewed confidence. They were able to read again, learn again, find employment again, look at photos of their grandchildren again, or just recognize and wave to a friend across the street.