Surgicorps International is preparing for its 16th trip to Vietnam from October 27th-November 6th. This will be our final trip of 2018.
This year Surgicorps will provide services at a new location in HCM. We have been invited by HCMC Orthopedics and Rehabilitation Hospital. This hospital will make it possible for Surgicorps to expand its specialty services in HCM to include hand surgery. We will also once again sponsor a vision clinic to distribute reading and sun glasses.
Our 21 team members hail from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, and New York. Return team members include Thanh Armagost, Joanie Dunn, Lori Ellis, David Kim, Belinda Lee, Michele Misher-Harris, Jonathan Ponte, Michele Taft, Gregg Weidner, and Nicole Weidner.
We welcome several new team members this year as well: Arthur Celestin, Elise Dunn, Nathan Hoaglund, Melissa Iorio, Dave Kelley, Judy Kelley, Zachary Nguyen, Igor Semonov, and Ginny Wright.
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 2018 as you set out to change many lives. Stay tuned and follow us, for trip updates and pictures, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
Surgicorps’ 8th trip to Zambia is ready to go! We leave on September 15th and return on the 22nd 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, Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Utah, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Our returning volunteers include Anne Argenta, Diane Bremer, Tara Burns, Christine Depenthal, Karen Gallagher, David Kim, Lauren McGrath, John Merrill, David Metro Jr., Richard Montilla, Bernadette Montilla, Jimmie Moses, Susan Moses, Scott Pearson, and Modupe Sonuyi.
A warm welcome to our new team members this year: Nicholas Houska and Aparna Phadke.
Jack Demos returns as Medical Director and DeNese Olson, our Director of Operations and Outreach, is the Trip Coordinator. Lori Ellis will be making her 12th 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!
The Surgicorps Guatemala 2018 trip has come to an end and I couldn’t have been more thrilled to be part of the team for a second time.
It was a privilege to be part of a team of such talented and kind people. As a pediatrician my role consisted mostly of working in the recovery room both years. There, I saw the impact that the surgical team had on patients.
Procedures and surgeries, large and small, that we may take for granted, are life changing for many of these people. I saw multiple examples of this during my time in the recovery room but a few stand out.
Last year there was a young woman who had a cyst removed from her arm. I saw that she was crying and when I approached her and asked her if she was in pain, she shook her head no and painted a big smile on her face…. she was crying tears of happiness. A gentleman, who had a palate repair, began to cry as he could speak for the first time in many years. I had the same experience this year when I saw a man crying after surgery because he was so happy to have had a hernia repair.
The amount of gratitude was evident with every single patient. As a pediatrician, I especially loved seeing the children and their families. Every person that was part of the team was a true pleasure. Everyone brought their unique personality and talent but they also brought dedication and kindness to the work. From the non- medical people to the surgeons, everyone worked together to bring love and care to these people.
Again, I feel honored to be a part of this wonderful group of people.
Surgicorps is preparing for our 16th trip to Guatemala from August 4th-11th with a team of 35 dedicated medical and non-medical volunteers. Our team this year includes: 9 members from Pennsylvania, 15 from Massachusetts, 3 from Nevada, 2 from New York, 2 from Ohio, 1 from Colorado, 1 from Tennessee, 1 from California and 1 from Arizona.
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, Heather Archambeault, Pat Avis, Kerry Bennett, Cliff Bierman, Mary Bierman, Cathy Boyle, Kevin Cohen, Brian Gierl, Anne Hardart, Amelia Hare, Amy Hatch, Meghan Lauze, Carlos Mata, Richard Montilla, Bernadette Montilla, Farzaneh Nabizadeh, Jonathan Pelusi, Courtney Retzer-Vargo, Drake Sadler, Stephen Vargo, Jodi Yingling.
We welcome several new team members this year as well: Jonah Abraham, Paul Arcand, Elizabeth Arcand, Jack Bennett, Marcy Eckhart, Heather Gschnell, Don Hare, Andrea Ibarra, Owen Retzer, Etain Williams – Asplund, Brett Yingling. David Kim returns as Medical Director and Stephanie Charron will be the Trip Coordinator.
Surgicorps launched the Bon Voyage Crowdrise fundraiser again and in hopes that the Guatemala team members, and others, will once again participate in raising money to support our general Guatemala fund. These donations support the purchase of medical supplies and shipping costs amongst other expenses.
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.
The Surgicorps experience—what is it like for me? We recently returned from the Republic of Kazakhstan where Surgicorps staff provided the usual surgical interventions including plastic surgery, burn scar release, cleft lip and palate repair as well as a procedure new to the host country, prosthetic ear insertion, which was a wonderful learning opportunity for local health care providers.
For me the Surgicorps experience is somewhat different, not quite so glamorous. You see, I’m not a surgeon. I don’t perform any of the life changing improvements in our patients’ appearance and function. My role is a bit more mundane but, to my view, equally rewarding. I care for the patients after surgery. I get to see them when all the drapes are off and the surgical corrections have been performed. I often get to see the parents faces when they see their children for the first time with their new “look”.
When patients awaken from surgery, they are often still intubated, frightened, especially the little ones, and in pain. My role is to assess the patients, help get the breathing tubes out at the appropriate time, monitor for post op problems should they arise, and to assist with pain control. But the best part of what I do is to comfort the patients, reassuring them despite the language barrier. It’s also rewarding to work with, and from time to time teach, the local nursing staff. I made some friends in the PACU this year!
We travel with Surgicorps to offer medical services that are unavailable to those in need. We also travel to see the sights and sounds of another country, to learn about other cultures, the uniqueness and beauty of other people. Providing health care to these people allows us the privilege of a deeper, more revealing look into the people and their culture. We smile and say hello as best we can but, more importantly, we are remembered for what we have done to improve lives one at a time. That’s why I keep traveling with Surgicorps.
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.