A First for Surgicorps and a New Future for Ms. Huang Toe Toe
Story by Surgicorps volunteer Mario Guiterrez
It all started with a casual conversation over dinner during last year’s surgical mission to Paro, Bhutan between Surgicorps founder Dr. Jack Demos and one of the team’s surgeons, Debra Johnson. Dr. Johnson had, for more than twelve years, led volunteer surgical missions to Myanmar (formerly Burma). However, these missions sadly came to an end in 2002 due to lack of organizational funding support and increased political tensions between the US and Myanmar. All it took was for Dr. Jack to ask, “Any chance you think we can initiate a Surgicorps mission there?” for Debra to send off a flurry of emails to her contacts in Mandalay, Myanmar to explore the possibilities.
As a young resident Dr. Nu Nu Yee, had been mentored by Dr. Johnson during her many visits to Yangon (the Capital) General Hospital. Now Dr. Yee was the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Mandalay General Hospital. Upon hearing of Surgicorps and Dr. Johnson’s desire to work at her hospital, Dr. Yee and our Executive Director Linda Esposto worked diligently together to obtain all the necessary approvals from the Ministry of Health and secure the visas for the team. Finally, with all in place, the inaugural Surgicorps volunteer mission was set for February, 2013.
Myanmar is a fairly large, and relatively poor country that until recently had been isolated from the rest of the world. It has a population of 65 million — but with only five surgeons trained in plastic reconstructive surgery. Consequently, the number of children born with congenital defects such as cleft lip and palate, have greatly outstripped the capacity of Dr. Nu Nu Yee and her colleagues in Yangon to meet the overwhelming demand for care. The Surgicorps Mandalay team, was led by Dr. Jack Demos, and included two other surgeons Dr. Johnson and Dr. David Kim from Boston. On the first day clinic the team screened over 100 children and young adults who were in need of surgery And, while they included the usual array of cleft lip, palates, and burn contractures, there was one young lady that stood out from the rest.