Bhutan 2013

In the words of Bhutan 2013 Team Member, Dr. Alex Rose

Flying into Paro Airport for the first time is an exhilarating experience. The plane banks along the Himalayan Mountains before gliding to a stop on a narrow landing strip in a small valley that seems to appear out of nowhere. It was my first time in Bhutan, as well as about half of the other team members on this Surgicorps International trip. For others, this was their seventh journey to Paro, Bhutan, where dozens of patients already lined the open halls of the hospital, awaiting our arrival. The transition from hotel to hospital was a quick one and screening began almost immediately. With the help of the Tarayana Foundation, an NGO founded by her Majesty the Queen, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, patients received assistance with their transportation costs from the eastern regions of the country, enabling them access to Surgicorps aid.

That first day of screening we saw dozens of children with cleft lips and cleft palates. The majority of these children were born to parents who had no family history of this congenital deformity. Some babies were quite healthy and thriving, despite this deficit. Others were more obviously impacted in their growth from an inability to feed well. The OR schedule was filling up fast with patients whom we could really help in the days following.

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A First for Surgicorps and a New Future for Ms. Huang Toe Toe
Mandalay, Myanmar
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.

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Surgicorps’ first trip in 2013 was a return to Ethiopia. It was exciting to have a majority of the volunteers making their first trip with Surgicorps. It was a wonderful success with 53 surgeries completed. First-time volunteer Lauren Potter shared this story from the week.

Hussein’s Story
By Lauren Potter

Patient: Hussein Musa, Post-op from a cleft lip repair
With the assistance of an Amharic translator, (a nurse in the ward) I was able to learn more about Hussein from his mother; who held him on her back wrapped in a sheet which she tied around her body. She told me they had traveled over 500km from Diredawa, Ethiopia (10 hours by bus). They heard about the opportunity for Hussein to have surgery by “word of mouth”.

Hussein and his mother live in a catholic home (shelter) called Mother Teresa home. He was born on 12/6/11 so is just over a year old now. Hussein is an only child, but his mother assumes she will have more children. Hussein’s father works odd jobs but does not have a steady income. His mother is currently unemployed with the exception of occasional cleaning jobs (called a house worker) at people’s homes.

Hussein’s mother revealed to me that she was concerned when he was born with a cleft lip because she knew he would face difficulties being accepted into the community. I specifically questioned her on the topic of breastfeeding because I was curious to know how a cleft lip may have impacted Hussein’s ability to breastfeed. She responded that he could not breastfeed and instead she had to purchase cow’s milk to feed him. I tried to ask her about “pumping” breast milk with a breast pump, but she had no idea what that was.

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Surgicorps’ Zambia team of 20 volunteers has returned after another successful mission. This year’s team performed surgery on 60 patients and screened well over 100 patients, the majority of these patients presenting with burns and hand deformities. Many of these patients traveled for hours for the opportunity to be seen by the Surgicorps team. It was a very full week in Zambia with the medical teams completing 40% more surgeries than the previous year.

Screening Day was hectic. It was a hint of things to come and made extra special by a visit from a teenage girl who had surgery on her webbed toes last year. She stopped by to show us her healed foot, complete with nail polish and wearing flip flops, a simple indulgence not possible before her Surgicorps operation. She was so pleased with the results that she wanted to thank the surgeons.

Many of the patients needed surgery for burns and hand deformities. Following surgery our hand therapist provided much needed splinting and was able to create many types of splints, custom fitted for each patient. A follow up visit in the ward the next day helped to ensure a proper fit and parents were given written instructions—at times on the splint itself!!– on how to wear the splint. Thanks to the skill and creative use of materials, these patients have a much better chance of healing successfully. Before leaving Zambia the excess materials were donated for the use by the therapist at CURE hospital.

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Guatemala 2012 — In the words of Sara Schiavi RN

How are we to know how much we can offer a team, a mission, a country? I didn’t really know what I had to offer when I volunteered for the Surgicorps mission to Guatemala in August of 2012. What I did know was that I very much wanted to be part of an organization of the caliber of Surgicorps, that has so much to do with teamwork. As an RN working in the PACU at St. Vincent Hospital, I had heard about the previous year’s trip from Dr. David Kim, Stephanie Charron and Heather Archambeault. Their firsthand accounts were much of the impetus I needed to apply.

The Boston contingent, including Dr. McNicholas and her son Darragh, met up with the Pittsburgh team in Houston. For me, as a first timer, it was all about keeping the names straight! Everyone right away was so welcoming and genuinely glad to see us. It was especially great to meet Linda who knew right away what everyone was supposed to be doing, where they were going and who they were going with!

Sunday was a very busy day. I was told screening day can be very busy, seemingly chaotic, but usually goes very smoothly. I was so impressed by the helpfulness of every member of the team, from taking photos of patients, to escorting them to various departments, assisting with histories, and thank goodness for interpreters! On a personal note, it was incredibly humbling to meet with the Padre that morning and have a tour of the hospital. The insight it brought me was invaluable. I was impressed right away with the staff of the hospital; their daily care and compassion of the patients they serve is clearly evident.

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4th Annual Memorial Golf Outing Benefits Surgicorps®

4th Annual Memorial Golf Tournament to benefit Surgicorps International
September 10, 2012
Loch Nairn Golf Club
Avondale, PA

On Monday, September 10, 2012 the Loch Nairn Golf Club will be the site of the 4th 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: Captains Choice, prizes, green & cart fees, refreshments on the course, individual and team contests, a cocktail hour and a buffet dinner complete with awards for the day’s winners! See highlights from last year’s event: Facebook.

Registration: 12:00 PM
Shot Gun Start: 1:00 PM
Cocktails & dinner: 6:30 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 in the Clubhouse that will be on display for one week. For more information call 610-268-0824 or 610-268-2235. Deadline for sponsorship is August 20.

One of the many exclusive opportunities of the Golf Tournament is the chance to win a week-long vacation at a villa in Jamaica. The 4 bedroom villa is staffed with a housekeeper and cook. Winner is responsible for airfare and cost of food. Suggested donation: $35 per ticket, available in advance at the Surgicorps office 412-767-4185 or on the day of the event.

Finally — the day ends with a cocktail hour and buffet dinner and program. Cocktails and Dinner only tickets are also available.

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

New Faces and Friends — Bhutan 2012

By Mario Gutierrez — Surgicorps Volunteer

One of the unique and wonderful aspects of Surgicorps is our desire to include a variety of individuals on the surgical missions to experience firsthand what we do, and interact with the people and culture of the places where we go. This past April, the team in Bhutan was composed of 28 individuals, the largest team to date. In addition to our core group of surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses, our team included a budding young third year plastic surgery resident, a medical student from the United States and one from New Zealand, and a volunteer preparing to enter medical school. Also for the first time our Bhutan team included dentists. Dr. William Manteris, the leader of the dental team, who on his own, has traveled internationally providing volunteer dental care to those in need, joined a Surgicorps team for the first time. Willie brought a team of two young dentists who conducted educational and restorative care for more than 1,000 children and adults in several isolated rural villages during our week in Bhutan.

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Paro-2012 DAY ONE — Reunions and Patient Update

by Mario Gutierrez

Normally our first day of surgery is a bit hectic as we all get to know each other and settle into our respective roles, making sure that all of the equipment is functioning and patients are all scheduled and checked and ready for surgery. However, for some reason this year our first day has gone very smoothly— almost too quiet. But then this afternoon we were treated to yet another remarkable Bhutanese special moment.

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Bhutan 2012

Surgicorps received a Certificate of Appreciation from Her Majesty’s Tarayana Foundation at a ceremony during the Inaugural Session for the Tarayana Annual Fair in Thimphu, Bhutan on Friday, May 4th. Surgicorps is the first international organization to receive this honor recognizing our work on behalf of the Bhutanese people over the past six years. Founder Jack Demos and his father and fellow board member, Tony Demos, returned to Bhutan earlier this week to accept the award in person.

Stories and images from the recently completed Surgical Camp in Paro will be posted soon. The 28 member team completed 59 surgeries, 125 knee injections and the first-time dental camp reached more than 1,000 Bhutanese children in a one-week period. This was Surgicorps’ 6th trip to the Kingdom of Bhutan.

All the Way to Vietnam

In the words of volunteer Marina Llull from Mallorca, Spain

Surgicorps once again has managed to recruit some of the best doctors, nurses, anesthetists and other helpers to travel all the way to the other side of the world with the only goal to provide medical attention to anyone who reaches out for their help.

On the 27th of October all of these hardworking people paused from their everyday lives to make many other lives a thousand times better. Leaving their jobs, routines and their families and friends, these volunteers were willing to go beyond feeling solidarity and take one more step. Spending their own money and time, which we sometimes forget is something pretty hard to find, these special people want to actually make a difference.

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Guatemala Diary

Children of Guatemala

Alex Kim blogs about his second trip to Guatemala as a Surgicorps International volunteer. Alex’s dad, Dr. David Kim, is leading the trip’s medical team this year.

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Bhutan, April 2011 – Pema Yengehen

In the words of volunteer Mario Gutierrez

Every once in while on these surgical volunteer camps reality raises its head, stares you in the face, strikes you deep down in your soul and reminds you just why we do this. Today was a one of those days. After the organized chaos of the first couple of days of getting to know each other, setting up the supply room, organizing the operating theater and just getting into the daily routine of the ebb and flow from pre-op to recovery, the third day usually goes smoothly. That day, we had a full schedule and thought we would be there late, but this remarkable team of 18 gelled very quickly, and surprisingly we were nearly through 13 cases in reasonable time. Lots of cleft palates, cleft lips, fistulas, a variety of burn contractures, cute kid with ear tags that Dr. Jack removed under local, and then, the last case, PATIENT #36 came out of surgery.

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The Story of Wangdi – The Bear Warrior

Paro, Bhutan

Wangdi is a 64 year old male who lives in the village of Punakua, a two hour drive from the Capital City of Thimphu. Three years ago, Wangdi and some of the other villagers were rebuilding their homes. When he and his friend went into the forest in search of more wood they had an unfortunate surprise encounter with a large bear and her three cubs that had been sleeping under a tree. While Wangdi’s friend managed to run away, the bear went after Wangdi, viciously attacking his face and head. With his head halfway inside the bear’s mouth, Wangdi desperately tried to pry himself free. In the process, the bear tore three of Wangdi’s fingers off his left hand. With his right hand, he was able to pull out his long knife from his “gho” and stab the bear twice before losing consciousness. In the meantime, his friend ran back to the village to get help. Although he was badly wounded, they were able to get him to the hospital and saved his life. Despite his terrible wounds he asked his friends to go back and try and find his watch, which had come off during the attack. Although they didn’t find it, they did find the bear lying dead a few yards from where they had found Wangdi. Today, Wanghi’s face remains badly scarred from the attack, although time and surgery have improved his appearance. He wears a fur hat to cover the loss of scalp on his head and stylish dark aviator glasses to mask the damage to his eyes.

He was first operated by Surgicorps in 2007 to reconstruct and reposition his eye socket. He has been back each year for additional surgeries. In 2010 a staged reconstruction of his nasal cavity was conducted with a rib bone graft, and his badly deformed eye was also further reconstructed. He’s back again this year (with cooler looking dark shades) to re-adjust the positioning of his lower eyelids to help stop his constant tearing and protect his eyes. He still carries his trusty knife with him at all times and says he’s very grateful that he still has his thumb and two fingers on his left hand so that he can finger his prayer beads and thank his good karma that he was still alive.

Ethiopia, February 2011


In the words of Linda Esposto, Executive Director

Surgicorps trips are all unique, yet they all have one thing in common-witnessing the love of parents for their children in all lands, and their willingness to sacrifice for them.

Ethiopia was no different. Mothers who brought their malnourished children to us at the CURE hospital in Addis Ababa in hope of a palate repair to change their lives. Mothers who were unable to produce enough breast milk to feed their infants and had no funds to purchase goat milk as supplement.

Their tears brought us to tears. In some cases, all we could offer were hugs of support.

It is overwhelming. It is at times so sad.

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