Honduras 2015 by Christine Bowman

 

It was an honor to be a part of Surgicorps International’s maiden voyage to Hospital de San Lorenzo in Valle, Honduras. San Lorenzo is located 60 miles south and a two hour bus ride from the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa. Our 8 member team became the first Surgical Brigade that the non-profit organization, Global Brigades hosted in Honduras. By partnering with Global Brigades, Surgicorps was able to reach a large number of patients from the rural communities already being served by their public health and mobile medical clinics.

With over 40 patients on the schedule following clinic on Sunday, we knew we had our work cut out for us as we were limited to one operating room. Hospital de San Lorenzo has two operating rooms, one of which is used around the clock for emergency c-sections and other emergency surgeries. When I inquired about the number of “emergency” c-sections being done, I was given a very good explanation. Some women travel by bus or by walking for several days to reach the hospital. It is their practice to do a c-section as soon as the women arrive because they have nowhere to stay until they go in to labor. This makes the trip more manageable as they can deliver their baby and be back home in a shorter amount of time.

With one OR and an 8 member team, we faced some long days to complete as many surgeries as possible. Each day, we greeted new patients at the hospital after they heard about our services. Everyone was evaluated and accommodated as possible into the surgery schedule. The surgeries ran the gamut from extra fingers and toes, cleft lip and palates, syndactylies, burn scar contractures, disfiguring neurofibromatosis of the face and scalp, and broken bones that had not healed correctly.

One very patient gentleman named Mario has been battling a lower leg infection for nearly four years. He was full of smiles and blessings for our team after we completed a wound debridement on Monday followed by skin grafts from multiple donor sites on his opposite leg on Friday. We have given him hope and a chance to heal which is so much better than the alternative of an amputation.
A young man named Oscar, working as a barber, was already suffering from a severe case of kyphoscoliosis when he was in an accident involving paint thinner. The accident left him with multiple burn scar contractures, including the axilla, and unable to raise or fully extend his left arm. In addition to a scar release and skin graft he also received a muscle flap involving the entire left side of his torso. He left us on Friday, after a painful but necessary dressing change requiring sedation, with a smile on his face and many thanks. Knowing he has several weeks of healing and multiple dressing changes to come he still has a positive outlook with the hopes of being able to get back to his job at the barber shop.

Karen is a 14 month old beautiful baby girl who has the appearance of an 8 month old malnourished baby. She came to us seeking a bilateral cleft lip repair. Upon further examination and review of her past medical records it was confirmed that she also suffers from Wolf Hirschorn’s Disease. This disease leaves a child with very distinct facial features, failure to thrive, intellectual disabilities, weak muscle tone leading to delayed sitting, standing and walking and even seizures. The repair of her bilateral cleft lip left her mother incredibly happy. She sent the team a message on Friday expressing how grateful the entire family was. Even more important than her cosmetic appearance, is that the repair should lead to improved feeding and nutritional status giving Karen an increased chance of survival.

These are just a few of the stories and beautiful memories that we will carry with us in our hearts. It is always humbling and an honor to be graciously welcomed and appreciated by the underprivileged communities of our world. As a team, we give many thanks to Global Brigades for hosting us in Honduras and allowing us to be a part of the beautiful community of San Lorenzo Valle, Honduras.

Bhutan 2015–Dr. Robert Schemmer provides dermatological services to Bhutanese monks…..

Bhutan 2015 Dr. Schemmer and monks

 

Dr. Robert Schemmer, a dermatologist from Canada , joined our medical team as a first time volunteer to Bhutan recently. He treated monks at the Rinpung Dzong Monastery as well as patients in the clinic. His services were much needed and appreciated by the Bhutanese people. Surgicorps will hopefully incorporate these services into future trips!  Thank you to Dr. Schemmer for sharing some of his daily blog posts.

Day 2–up at 5 AM and the surgical team was in the Operating room by 6:15. I went along for some supplies and am now waiting to see patients at a local monastery–that should be interesting. Meanwhile the surgeries–will number about 15 cases per day are busily underway. Interestingly about half of the team members are young–refreshing that so many people are up to this challenge, willing to offer their time and go to the expense of a very worthwhile cause. Wonderful scenery, although a bit cloudy so no view of the snow capped Himalayas.

Day 3 Bhutan at the  Rinpung Dzong Monastery–Today I worked with the monks seeing about 20 odd for minor little skin and other medical problems. As I got to go inside the monastery where the public does not get to, it was quite an honor to meet the Lama or head and have tea and lunch first followed by a group medical consultation. About twenty or so monks ranging in age from about 15 to 60 were all gathered together listening to each individual’s medical problems along with my translator and driver. This was a bit unusual for me and I was thankful that no “personal” areas of the skin were involved! Everything was dealt with from actual treatments to advice on better eating etc.

At the end of our little 4 hour session, I enjoyed a ceremony–PUJA followed by a group photograph in the courtyard of the monastery.  This created a lot of tourist interest and suddenly we became the focus of a lot of photographers. Anyway, all was done and I had a great time and will go back today to deliver some much needed medicine for those that were diagnosed. More to follow…..

Day 3 Schemmer blog

Day 4–Today I spent most of the morning and a bit of the afternoon seeing patients with the team of Traditional Medicine Doctors. Very interesting are their treatments and we treated some with traditional medicine and others with allopathic medicine.

The highlight was the Royal luncheon hosted by the Queen and her daughter in their small palace (really huge and one of several). We all had to go in traditional dress called the GHO for men and KIRA for women and walked in twos up to the palace where the queen greeted us. We then went inside and a number of questions were asked and when team leader Dr. Jack (it’s his 9th mission) introduced us and told her Majesty that there was a Dermatologist amongst us, she immediately talked about her (bad) experiences with Dermatologists (no personal information of course in front of the group).

We then had a wonderful luncheon and after we ate, the Queen invited me, her daughter and one of her aides to do a personal consultation. She is a wonderful, warm and down to earth majesty and we talked and I examined her and gave her advice. In all I was with the three women for about 20 minutes. A real privilege. Afterwards we went into the courtyard with our group and a number of high ranking officials to have group pictures taken by the official photographer as private pictures are forbidden. Then we said our goodbyes and the Queen presented each of us with gifts–mine was a book on Bhutan. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and most enjoyable.

Day 5–Today was somewhat uneventful but included is a typical house/building showing Bhutanese architecture along with some of the patients that I saw including the 88 year old father of the  Governor (Dzongda) for the entire Paro district. Again, an honor that a high official would bring his father to see me.

A lot of infectious skin diseases here, along with common ones like I see in Canada. I cannot take any photos in the operating room for patient privacy but will try to send a few (if I get them from the official photographer) to give you an idea of what the surgeons do her. (there are examples on the website as well). Tomorrow its back to the monastery after some hospital clinics to see the monks–the children are so cute and it almost breaks your heart that 6-10 year olds have been taken there to get an education as their parents are just too poor to raise, feed and educate them.

Day 5 Schemmer blog

Day 6–Friday–Well the week has certainly passed by quickly and the surgical team has done over 70 surgeries working non stop and long hours. My clinics have been busy both in hospital and at the local monastery and today was another trip there after my morning clinic. Surgicorps team members are expected to multi-task and one of my tasks today was not only to see the monks with their skin problems, but also to do some simple refraction for reading glasses.

First, we were graciously invited to lunch with the lama (head of the monastery) in private quarters, but because of time constraints (this week was a very holy week, filled with prayers and ceremonies, lunch was delayed as the fun with refraction started. The sheer joy on the monks’ faces, both old and fairly young, when they tried out their new reading glasses was heartwarming. Part of their life of dedication is studying and do they read a lot–often under poor lighting conditions.Between refraction, a stream of young, and older monks mixed in with various skin issues were treated. My translator and assistant was a huge help as I focused on the medical and we managed to see about 50 patients. Then a delicious lunch of rice, asparagus and a potato vegetable (mild) curry. was enjoyed .

Back to the hospital for a couple of patients and tonight our gala dinner at one of the ore upscale hotels here in Paro. Tomorrow our group will hike to a monastery perched literally on a cliff–so our weekend will be more recreational. Sunday its off to Thimphu, the capital, for more sightseeing. Of course, Monday is the final day of work. The surgery team will check the post operative results and I will see as many patients as I can before the touristy part of my trip throughout some of the country starts.

Day 6 Schemmer blog

Day 7–Well the week of work passed quickly and over 70 surgeries were performed by the team of plastic surgeons, anesthetists and nurses and other volunteers and as for myself I saw between 125-150 patients visiting the local monastery three times with another visit planned tomorrow as there were a few children that not only had skin diseases, but also pink eye.

This weekend we started off on a trek to the famous Tiger’s Nest–a landmark in Bhutan. This monastery is perched against a rock-cliff over 10,000 feet elevation the the climb takes about 2.5 hours starting from about 7500 feet elevation. We started off at 7:00 am as the sun gets hot later. One can ride a horse part way up, but of course that takes some of the fun out of this adventure. At the monastery–you finally think great I’m here, but then there are a lot of steps to continue the climb up and into the inside. All materials were brought up there manually and partially with pack animals although they cannot use them the last 30 minutes as the path is too narrow. The building which burned partially in 1998, took 10 years to rebuild and is truly a wonder and the views are fabulous. not for those afraid of heights. Today it’s off to Thimphu, the capital, to look around. The skies are brilliant today, the air is fresh and what more could one ask for.

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SPOTLIGHT ON BHUTAN VOLUNTEERS 2015

Surgicorps is preparing to leave for its 9th trip to Bhutan from April 25-May 5, 2015! Our uniquely talented team members bring a wide range of skill sets and resources which help ensure each trip is a success. There are a total of 21 team members including 9 from Pittsburgh, PA, 11 from other cities/states and 1 from Canada.

This year we have a first time volunteer, local Pittsburgh artist Terry Boyd, who will be our artist in residence. You may read about Terry’s recent awards and visit his website here. We will be excited to share his work upon the teams return on Facebook and our website.

Willie Manteris and his dental team will once again be traveling into the rural areas of Bhutan administering much needed dental services and preventative education. In the last two trips to Bhutan, the dental team reached more than 1,000 in outlying villages and monasteries.

Two generations of Argentas will join the team as plastic surgeons. Anne, a returning Surgicorps volunteer and her father, Lou, who will make his first trip to Bhutan.

Cliff Bierman, Prema Krishnamurthy, Naomi Quillopa and Warren Schubert are the veteran Bhutan volunteers. Jonathan Ponte, a prior Surgicorps volunteer, will be making his first trip to Bhutan. Sheryl Lamb, a Surgicorps board member has joined 8 teams. Surgicorps founder, Jack Demos, will lead the medical team and Linda Esposto, Director of Programs and Logistics, will be making sure that everything goes as planned! It truly is a team effort!

The other team members are first time Surgicorps volunteers and include Stephanie Annis, Michael Best, Mary Bierman, Alena Curry, Hillel Kashtan, Robert Schemmer, Ginger Sturgeon and Chris and Darlene Yanakos. We are grateful to all the volunteers for their time and service!

Vietnam 2014 Video

This video was made by Danielle Dunn, daughter of Surgicorps Vietnam 2014 volunteer Joanie Dunn.

Thank you to both Joanie and Danielle for contributing this video to Surgicorps!

UPCOMING BHUTAN TRIP-APRIL 2015

The Surgicorps team will be traveling to Bhutan for our 9th trip to this country from April 25-May 5, 2015. We are grateful to our team members for the time, energy and resources they will provide to help improve the lives of our Bhutanese friends! This trip honors the memory of Dr. Sarah Pettrone; an outstanding surgeon, Surgicorps volunteer and Bhutan team member who passed away last year.

Team members hail from several states as well as Canada. They are:  Stephanie Annis, Anne Argenta, Lou Argenta, Michael Best, Cliff Bierman, Mary Bierman, Terry Boyd, Alena Curry, Jack Demos, Linda Esposto, Hillel Kashtan, Prema Krishnamurthy, Sheryl Lamb, William Manteris, Jonathan Ponte, Naomi Quillopa, Robert Schemmer, Warren Schubert, Ginger Sturgeon, Chris Yanakos and Darlene Yanakos.

 

Uganda-January 2015 by Tara Burns

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Recently Surgicorps International celebrated their 20th year anniversary and I just returned home from my 20th mission trip with Surgicorps. As I reflect on this milestone I am compelled to put my thoughts into writing.

It is difficult to find words to describe what Surgicorps means to me. Ten years ago as a college student, I began my journey with Surgicorps. I could never have dreamed or imagined the impact that Surgicorps would have on my life or that I would have the opportunity to travel to eight developing countries to assist in providing medical care to those in need.

My travels with Surgicorps have changed me as a physician assistant and as a person.

I have made many new friends from our country and many others from the various countries to which I have traveled.

When I enter hospitals in certain countries, I feel like I am participating in a homecoming. I find myself hugging and embracing my friends and “family” that I have not seen in a while.

Professionally, I have learned surgical techniques and gained medical knowledge from the very talented, competent doctors, nurses, surgical technicians, CRNA’s, and other physician assistants. This knowledge has carried over and been useful in my professional life in America.

While working closely with medical professionals in various countries, I have learned that there is more than one way of completing tasks and that the “American way” is not always the best way.

I have helped to create many “smiles”, but the patients who have received a new smile have made me smile even more!

Medical mission trips with Surgicorps keep me emotionally grounded and humble and have taught me many lessons in patience.

I have shed tears, acquired many bug bites, and lost weight from traveler’s GI illnesses. However, I would not change one thing about my experiences.

I have witnessed sickness and deformities, dealt with loss, and have seen the results of physical acts of violence provoked by other human beings that I could have never imagined. Helping individuals to “feel whole” again by surgically providing them with the ability to eat, talk, smile, walk, or use their arms, makes me thankful to have been blessed with skills as a PA and to be a volunteer with a group of individuals who share my mindset.

I am truly honored to have had all of these opportunities and privileges bestowed upon me by the age of 33.

Thank you Surgicorps (and the generosity of those that support your mission as donors and volunteers and make these trips possible) for impacting and changing my life forever. I am beyond grateful for the opportunities you have provided for me to help positively impact the lives of hundreds of adults and children. I look forward to traveling with you for many years to come!

Tara Burns

Vietnam 2014 by Joan Pearlstein Dunn

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On October 31st, a group of 18 volunteers would travel almost 10,000 miles to reach Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This was my maiden-voyage with the team, and I joined them as a non-medical volunteer. Although I’d traveled to many faraway places, I would soon learn the difference between traveling, and seeing the world.

We filed in as doctors, nurses, students, medical technicians, coordinators, writers, and interpreters. We arrived with different educations, nationalities, skillsets, cultures, and ages. But when united together, we became one. We became a well-oiled machine that performed life-changing surgeries, and brought hope to less fortunate and disadvantaged individuals. Together we became Surgicorps.

The first day was screening day, the time when soon-to-be patients are assessed for surgery. When our team arrived, the waiting room was swelled to capacity with men, women, and children of all ages. They were eager to be seen, yet waited (some for hours) with patience and good nature. Some were there for the first time and others had returned for second and even third surgeries. Many had severe birth defects; cleft palates, missing ears, and other anomalies. There were babies too young to know that they looked unlike other children, even startling. But their parents were well aware and sat joyfully, while they waited for their child to be seen by the surgeons. Although all communication was done through interpreters, the sentiment in that room needed no translation; hope had arrived.

I felt particularly drawn to the burn patients, many who were unsightly. Maybe it was in the knowing that they weren’t born this way. Maybe it was in the knowing that at one time they knew how it felt to look normal or even beautiful; that at one time they knew how it felt to “fit in.” That first day, in screening, we were only required to record the physical source behind the burns; cooking with kerosene on an open flame, a lit cigarette falling into a gasoline can, acid burns, and an electrocution that left a man without arms, or toes. The burn patients understood that there was no magic wand for all of their disfigurements, so they came to see the Surgicorps team in search of a new normal. They underwent surgeries to restore lips that had been seared off, or release fingers that were fused together. One young man was unable to raise his arms when he arrived. Three days after surgery, he proudly posed for pictures with his hands on his hips and a big smile on his face.

Through the help of our interpreters we got to know the burn patients; a group of individuals that didn’t know one another when they arrived, but were tightly intertwined by the time they left. We gave them an opportunity to tell their stories and to talk about how different life was for them now; to talk about the “new normal”. One woman showed us a photo of an exquisite bride on her wedding day. It was a picture of herself, one that was taken before the accident that burned her face beyond recognition.

The group felt comfortable, and safe, when in the company of each other. Opening up about things that they hadn’t spoken of before was like a warm bath to them; a liberating release of emotion. When together, they felt like they “fit in.” They spoke freely about feelings of rejection, and embarrassment in the outside world. Some spoke of feeling helpless, and reliant on family for the simplest of things. The man without arms dreamed of having a single hook one day to replace just one of his arms. He wanted nothing more than to feel independent. When asked what they would hope for, if given three wishes, their selfless answers surprised us all. They wished only to be accepted in a world where physical appearance matters most. They wished this so that they might become employed again, and provide for their families. They wished not to be a burden.

That which does not kill you, will indeed make you stronger, and the patients that we helped are a testament to that. It was a joy to see the happiness in their faces, and the confidence that was restored to them after surgery. I will miss my new friends in Vietnam, and hope to see them next year on our return visit. The trip was life changing, not just for the people that we helped, but also for ourselves. It was as much about what we took home in our hearts as what we left behind.

Apply Now – Surgicorps Student Scholarship

Are you a student in the medical professions interested in going on a trip with Surgicorps?  Click here to see if you are eligible for the Surgicorps Student Scholarship!  The scholarship is awarded annually and covers $1,000 of the recipient’s travel costs.

10th Annual “A Night on the Town” Will Benefit Surgicorps® Intl and Pennsylvania Batten Disease Support

October 10, 2014

Sheraton Station Square

Starting at 6 PM

On Friday, October 10, 2014, W.G. Tomko and Friends will host the 10th Annual “A Night on the Town” at the Sheraton Station Square. The event benefits Surgicorps International and Pennsylvania Batten Disease Support – two charities that are close to the hearts of the Tomko Family.

We’re excited and honored to be helping the Tomko’s celebrate the 10th Anniversary of this inspiring event during Surgicorps’ 20th Anniversary year. The generosity of the Tomko family and individuals like you make it possible for Surgicorps to accomplish its mission to provide free medical and surgical care to disadvantaged individuals in developing countries.

Tickets are $150 per person and include Cocktails, Dinner and Dancing. The evening will feature live entertainment by Gary Racan & Studio E!, and Chinese and Silent Auctions for a variety of choice merchandise and services.  Grand prizes include a trip to Florida, Bathroom Fixtures, and a Big Screen Television.  Sponsorships are also available.

Seating requests will be accommodated if received in advance. For more information or to request seating at a Surgicorps table, please call 412-767-4185 or by email: lesposto@surgicorps.org.

To register or become a sponsor, please download and print the Tomko Event Registration Form  and mail with your check (payable to Surgicorps International) to Surgicorps International, 3392 Saxonburg Blvd., Suite 400, Glenshaw, PA 15116.

Tickets and Sponsorships Online: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/10th-annual-wg-tomko-a-night-on-the-town-tickets-13001187903. Pay by check: To register or become a sponsor, please download and print the Tomko Event Registration Form. Mail the completed form with your check payable to Surgicorps International to: Surgicorps International, 3392 Saxonburg Blvd., Suite 400, Glenshaw, PA 15116.

Increase the impact of your support by encouraging others to attend! Please share this invitation and promote the event on your social media networks.

We look forward to sharing the evening with you. Thank you for your continuing support!

Join us for LemonAID

Surgicorps International applauds local entrepreneur and CEO of Eyeflow, Phil Laboon, for his decision to turn recent misfortune (read: lemons) into LemonAID. We’re grateful and excited to be the beneficiary organization of this fundraising event on Sunday, August, 31st.

If you’re in or around Pittsburgh for the Labor Day Weekend, please make plans to join the party (over 21 only) in the Grand Hall at The Priory. Every $75 admission is a fully tax deductible donation to Surgicorps and means life changing surgical and medical services for patients in developing countries. It’s also your ticket to great food, drinks and entertainment. The fun starts at 6:00pm!

Click here for more information and tickets & please spread the word!

Surgicorps remembers Dr. Sarah Pettrone

Our Surgicorps International Family lost a wonderful friend and colleague, as Dr. Sarah Pettrone lost her battle with cancer and passed away on July 26, 2014. Sarah traveled with us to Ethiopia in 2011, and twice to Bhutan—2010 and 2012, each time accompanied by one of her sisters, Kristen or Jess. She brought expertise, compassion, and care with her each and every day, and her smile (a Surgicorps Smile!!) and energy were infectious. Sarah will always be with us. Her spirit holds a permanent place on every one of our teams as we continue to do the work she so loved.

Our thoughts and prayers are with her parents, sisters, family members and many friends and colleagues during this time of loss.

-Jack & Linda

Click here to view obituary

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Golf Tournament to Benefit Surgicorps® Intl

6th Annual Memorial Golf Tournament Benefits Surgicorps® Intl

September 8, 2014
Loch Nairn Golf Club
Avondale, PA

On Monday, September 8, 2014, the Loch Nairn Golf Club  will be the site of the 6th Annual Memorial Golf Tournament to benefit Surgicorps International in loving memory of Hank Smedley and Jackie Baird.

Join us for a great day of golf and support Surgicorps. This 18-hole tournament includes: prizes, green & cart fees, refreshments on the course, individual and team contests, and a cocktail hour and a buffet dinner complete with awards for the day’s winners!

Registration: 12:00 PM
Shot Gun Start: 1:00 PM
Cocktails, dinner and coffee bar: 6:00 PM
$145.00 per person – includes cocktails & dinner
$65.00 – cocktails & dinner only

Golf and/or be a sponsor! Sponsorships begin at $125 and include tee signage on the course and the Clubhouse that will be on display for one week. For more information call 412-767-4185 or 610-268-0824. Or e-mail: info@surgicorps.org.

Deadline for registration and sponsorship is August 18, 2014.

One of the many exclusive opportunities of the Golf Tournament is the chance to win a one week-vacation in a fully-staffed, four- bedroom villa at the Skibereen Villa in Jamaica, West Indies. Suggested donation: $35 per ticket or 3 tickets for $90.

Please consider joining us at Loch Nairn for golf and/or supporting this wonderful event as a sponsor.

To register or become a sponsor, please download and print the Golf Registration Form and mail with your check (payable to Surgicorps International) to Surgicorps International, 3392 Saxonburg Blvd., Suite 400, Glenshaw, PA 15116.

See photos from past tournaments on our Facebook page.

20th Anniversary Celebration

On June 14, 2014, the Fox Chapel Racquet Club was the scene of the first Pittsburgh Celebration of Surgicorps’ 20 years of providing medical and surgical services to those in need in developing countries.

Hosted by Jack and Cathy Demos, the lively and memorable evening, attended by more than 170 long-time supporters, volunteers and new friends, included a Silent Auction of one-of-a-kind mementos from Surgicorps’ travels and music by the Jazz3. It was a fundraising success with more than $100,000 raised to support upcoming mission trips.

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Trip volunteers received special recognition among the attendees. To highlight their spirit, generosity and history with Surgicorps, volunteers decorated their nametags with flags from the countries they visited. There was no end to the reunions and new introductions inspired by their shared experiences.

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Dr. Demos reminded the audience of the purpose of the evening by narrating a photographic retrospective of the past 20 years. It included the memorable faces and infectious smiles of patients, their families and the Surgicorps family; leaving a lasting impression on everyone in the room. The organization’s history and service tells a story of hope, relief and love. It goes well beyond the recipients of the 4,000 surgeries in 18 countries. The positive ripple reaches the families of patients and service personnel in hosting countries before it rebounds back to Surgicorps’ volunteers as the satisfaction of giving back.

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A heartfelt “Thank you” from the Surgicorps staff, Board of Directors, volunteers, and the communities that we serve.

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Stories from Bhutan 2014

Posted by Surgicorps Volunteer, Betsy Utterback. Made possible by the generosity of Surgicorps volunteers and donors.
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Sonam Wagmo

The love and support of Sonam Wagmo’s daughters convinced her to let go of her fears and finally come see the Surgicorps doctors. For over 50 years, Sonam lived with a cleft lip and palate. Due to these deformities, her speech patterns never fully developed and eating and speaking were a hardship. And although we assume that the appearance of her face affected her quality of life, she is a happy woman who coped with her disability. She had no idea how much easier life would have been with a corrective procedure that we see performed at home in the first year of life.

Sonam is a divorced mother of three. Her daughter, Bumjay Llama, brought her on the 9 hour bus ride to Paro where Dr. Demos and the team repaired her cleft lip. It was Bumjay’s insistence that convinced Sonam to have the operation. Her family felt that although she lived her life on earth with this disability, she should not go to the afterlife with it!!

Bumjay is a vivacious woman with a great sense of humor. Even though we had to rely on our interpreters, her sharp wit translated well! After her mother’s surgery, Bumjay’s first response was “Ok, Mommy. Now you can look for a new husband!”

Today, Sonam is back in Samse working as a weaver for a shop that makes the traditional women’s Kiras and men’s Ghos worn by the Bhutanese. Kiras are ankle length skirts which are wrapped around the waist and worn with a short silk jacket. The Gho is the traditional and national dress for men who wear them knee length and belted with a “kera”. Kneesocks and tie shoes complete the outfit for men. Traditional Kiras and Ghos are required to be worn by students in school, government workers or for any state functions. A bright sash called a “kabney” is worn over the shoulder diagonally for ceremonial functions.

Probably the most rewarding moment of the trip was watching Sonam finally look into the mirror after refusing to do so for a day. Her precious, tentative smile reflected her quiet excitement. She could not have squeezed my hand any harder. Of course, she was still not feeling 100%, but she managed to say thank you repeatedly.


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Sonam Yangdon

Imagine yourself as a beautiful 14 year old girl walking alone along a familiar path to meet a friend when all of a sudden, a bear jumps in front of you and proceeds to maul you. This was Sonam, the unfortunate victim of an unprovoked bear attack eight years ago. Her face was literally swiped off by the claws of the bear who fortunately retreated before killing this terrified girl. In shock, she managed to run to a neighbor’s house. From there, she was taken to the local clinic in her small town of Mongara where they could only gave her painkillers.

The next day, she was taken to a doctor in Punukha who began to treat her injuries, but did not have the training or equipment to properly reconstruct the damage. In 2006, Sonam and her family heard that the Surgicorps doctors were in Paro. It was a two day trip but she managed to meet Dr. Jack Demos and his team who began the first of seven surgeries to repair Sonam’s face.

The tragedy could have destroyed Sonam’s life, but it did not. She returned to her studies in a school for children with disabilities in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. And it was in this school where she met her husband who had suffered spinal cord injuries after a motorbike accident. Last year, Sonam returned to Paro for her seventh surgery but had to delay this procedure for a year because of her pregnancy! In 2014, accompanied by her adorable 9 month old baby boy, she had her surgery. The team was so happy to meet her son; and Sonam was obviously proud and excited for everyone to see that she is living her life despite her difficulties. Sonam’s husband, who works as a tailor, and her sister accompanied her to the hospital.

Sonam and her husband now live with their son and her parents in Punukha, a 3 hour bus ride from Paro. Sonam spends her days like many young mothers, doing house chores, taking care of the baby and cooking. She loves to prepare curry dishes and surprisingly, loves to watch American horror movies on TV. Sonam leads a quiet life but she is happy and very grateful to “Dr. Jack” and the Surgicorps team for all they have done. She plans to be back next year for another surgery; and the team looks forward to another happy reunion!


migmar

Migmar Dorji

Migmar is a happy 12 year old boy who suffered facial and burns on the right side of his body when he was 2 years old. The mosquito netting under which he was sleeping caught fire when the wind blew it into an open flame of a kerosene lamp. This year, the Surgicorps team performed its fourth operation on Migmar whose aunt plans to bring him in each year to continue the reconstructive process.

Migmar is from Gelephu in the southern part of Bhutan. It is a 2 day bus ride from Paro on roads which can be difficult to navigate. His lives with his grandparents. He is a typical fourth grader in many ways who loves to play with his friends, but he has no interest in playing sports! He loves math and watching Indian cartoons on TV. His favorite is “Chota Bheem”, a popular cartoon for the Bhutanese children. Migmar’s beautiful smile is always present and reflects his personality.


tashi

Tashi Om

Tashi is a quiet and reserved 19 year old who was inspired to enter the nunnery when she was very young. She believes that the best way for her to serve this world is by being a nun and reaching out to those less fortunate. Although she comes from a poor family, she feels blessed to have so much. She wants to project goodness and kindness to all.

Tashi lives in a nunnery housing 90 nuns in Thimpu, the capitol of Bhutan. Her days are spent meditating, memorizing prayers and planning good deeds to share. She feared that before she entered the nunnery last year, she would “do bad things”. She also said that due to the difficulty in obtaining jobs for women in Bhutan, she felt that being a nun would be a vocation which would protect her from being alone and unemployed. Tashi also insisted that I mention her best friend, Nawang Choden who she admires for her selflessness and piety.

The Surgicorps doctors operated on the birthmark on Tashi’s left cheek and removed half this year to minimize scaring. She will return in 2015 to have the rest eliminated. Although she has lived with the mark all of her life, she wanted to be “cleansed of it”. Tashi was a joy to meet and she hopes to continue our friendship through email.


kingzang

Kinzang Choden

Kinzang was a “happy surprise” baby whose 3 brothers and 2 sisters range from 19 to 29 years of age. She is a very happy and playful little girl who is loved and taken care of by her father, sisters and uncle. Her mother suffered a cerebral hemorrhage a few years ago so her father relies on the extended family to help raise his challenged 9 year old daughter. Kinzang is unable to speak and suffers from developmental issues. She does not go to school and she has no friends according to her father, but he feels that the love of the family is all she needs.

The family lives on a farm in Paro so it was relatively easy to bring Kinzang to the hospital where the Surgicorps doctors repaired her cleft palate. Throughout her hospital stay, she had a smile on her face and you could feel the love and support of her family. It is quite common for extended families to live together and support one another in Bhutan.


dechu

Dechu Kumari

Dechu is a bright, social and very friendly 14 year old girl who has travelled from Thimpu for the last 3 years to consult with the Surgicorps doctors. Each year, Dr. Demos and the team have improved her facial features in stages. This year, Dechu and her family made the trip to Paro for a surgery to elongate and narrow her nose. While Dechu recuperated in the hospital, her mother stayed with her in her room and her father slept in the car. Dechu was later joined by her older sister who will be going to the University of Calcutta in June. She has one brother who has the prestigious position of being an attendant to the king’s sister.

Dechu and her parents feel it is very important to Dechu’s future to improve the appearance of her nose and mouth. You could feel the anxiety of the parents and their concern to make their daughter more attractive. They have been persistent throughout the years to make sure that Dechu receives care from our doctors. They wait each year for the Surgicorps medical team to perform these surgeries because they trust that Dechu will receive the best care. There are few, if any, doctors in Bhutan who are trained to perform surgery on the deformities that the Surgicorps team expertly completes in conditions which are less than ideal! It would otherwise be necessary for patients to travel to India or Bangkok for such operations.


karma

Karma Wangchuck

Karma is the 10 month old daughter of a young couple who traveled 4 hours from Wangdue to reach the hospital in Paro where the Surgicorps team repaired the baby’s bilateral cleft lip. This family is one of the more fortunate in that they have relatives in Paro with whom they stayed during this week while their first child recovered from her operation. And although the family entered the hospital quite nervously, they felt that they could “trust the American doctors” with their firstborn.

Karma’s mother is a stay-at-home mom and her father works at a hydropower plant as a construction assistant. In cooperation with India, Bhutan has undertaken many hydroelectric projects. Hydropower is of primary importance to the economic progress of the country. There is virtually no petroleum or natural gas reserves in Bhutan, although they do have 1.3 million tons of coal reserves which they use only for domestic use. Due to the high mountains, rivers and deep gorges, Bhutan has an abundance of hydro power. However, with the increased demand for energy, alternative sources will need to be developed, although many households rely on simple wood burning methods for heat and cooking.


kuenzang

Kuenzang Dema

It was such a pleasure to meet this very sweet, intelligent couple from Manguar, a small town which lies about 450km from Paro. They now live in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan so their drive was relatively easy. They stayed with cousins who live in Paro. This was Dema’s fifth visit to the Surgicorps team. Dema’s condition—Rhomberg’s Disease— requires the injection of fat cells into her chin.

coupleThe couple spoke English very well so it was a bit easier for me to understand their enthusiasm for their new married life and the love for one another. Dema works as a tax officer and her husband is a documentary film editor. They met through her cousin in Thimpu. In their late 20s, they are like any other young couple who is looking forward to starting a family as a professional couple. They live in an apartment in the city; and they both love to cook Bhutanese dishes and watch soccer on TV. Dema likes her job as a “civil servant” working primarily in the corporate tax division of the government. Her husband, Tempa went to university in India and studied digital communication for two years. Many of the documentaries he edits are on the democracy of the new Bhutan. Other films advocate the cultural aspects and traditions of the Bhutanese people. Both of them could not imagine having no television! They both felt that without it, the small villages are totally abandoned. All communication, including the details of Surgicorps visit to Paro, could not be possible without it! Tempa’s animated description of a changing Bhutan and its future growth was exciting. Their enthusiasm marks a new era for the country under a new and admired young king and the new, developing constitution.

Pittsburgh Marathon

Be a runner or virtual runner in the Pittsburgh Marathon and support Surgicorps!

Follow this link — http://www.crowdrise.com/surgicorps2014pghmarathon/fundraiser/surgicorpsinternatio — to learn more. Donations of all amounts are appreciated and if you donate $50 or more, you will receive a receive a Surgicorps running tank! Contributions are accepted until the day of the race — May 4th — BUT if you would like the jersey for the marathon, please donate before April 11, 2014.

For more information, Olivia Cimba at oliviamcc@me.com.

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