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Looking back…celebrating Surgicorps’ 25th anniversary!

In honor of Surgicorps International’s 25th anniversary celebration, volunteers have shared some memorable moments and thoughts here:

“This donation in honor of my daughter has it’s roots in Surgicorps that planted the fertile seed waiting to grow in my daughter, Charlotte’s, heart. As a mother I was able to see the seed germinate on her Surgicorps trip as we traveled together to Guatemala. My husband and I watered that seed with support in many tangible and intangible ways. Today she is an ophthalmology resident pursuing dreams of preserving vision. Thank you Surgicorps and esp Jack Demos, MD.” ~ Surgicorps Volunteer

Here are some photos of other volunteers on trips!

Dr. Michele – Misher Harris with patients in Vietnam in the above photo and below with Dr. Janet Belitsky in Zambia.

13th Surgicorps Mission to Bhutan: Why We Do it! In the words of Merelise O’Connor

The 13th surgical mission to Bhutan resulted in 118 patients being screened and 60 people receiving surgery.  In addition, 168 people received knee injections to ease hard-working, arthritic joints.  Bhutan is truly a magical, mythical place and the Bhutanese are quiet, humble and lovely people.  To be involved in this work is moving, gratifying and eye-opening for the volunteers who make the journey. In the face of discomfort and long waiting times the patients and their family members are deeply appreciative for the important, life-changing surgery provided by Surgicorps International.  Here are some of their stories:

Dawa Tshering is a 60 year old farmer who lives south of Paro in a town called Shaba.  He lives with his wife at a higher elevation than his relatives.  One early evening about 6 months ago he was making his way down the hill to see his relatives, walking on a path with tall bushes and beside a drain trough.  He saw a black animal that he thought was a wild boar, so he shouted at it.   It wasn’t a boar after all; it was a Himalayan black bear and very dangerous!!

The bear swiped its powerful and sharp claws at him and took off his right ear.  He was knocked down a small bank into a rice paddy.  That may have been good fortune because the bear shuffled away instead of continuing the attack.  He was in shock and did not realize the extent of his injuries.  He returned home but then saw how much he was bleeding.  He called his niece, Gyem, and told her he had been “eaten” by a bear.  She thought the attack was ongoing and in panic, sent out a group of men on foot to rescue Dawa.  Realizing he was home and now safe, his relatives cleaned the wound and took him to the hospital.  The surgeons asked for the ear and the family located it and brought it back to Thimphu in a jar.  It had been outside on the ground overnight and it was too late to reattach it. The family provided a proper spiritual ending to the severed body part by setting it afloat in the Thimphu River.  The initial repair treatment closed the ear canal leaving him quite deaf.  Dawa was fairly anxious about a surgery but was hoping it would result in improved hearing.  The Surgicorps’ surgeon reconstructed his ear canal to enlarge it. The following morning when doctors were making rounds, he was smiling broadly and telling us that he could hear again! 

Kul Bahadur Tamang is 47, from Samdrup Jongkhar, in the southeast, two days driving distance from Paro.  He is a switchboard operator at a Bhutan Power Corporation.  When he was 5 or 6 years old, he was out with a group of other children to attend to the cattle grazing, without adult supervision.  The kids started a fire and he must have been too close.  His t-shirt caught on fire.  The kids were able to put the fire out, remove his shirt and take him home.  Thankfully, he does not remember the pain of the extensive burn under his right arm.  Burn scars contract over the years and this man had not been able to lift his arm up over his head for some time.  The skin in his armpit had been stretched to the point that it appeared webbed between his upper arm and his torso.  Doctors were able to release the contracture and he is currently in the process of healing.  He and his wife Sukreni are very glad that this surgery will help him have greater mobility.

Update on Sonam Rigsel Dorji:  Those who follow the Bhutan blog will remember the little boy who had severe burns and extensive scaring on his legs.  He was first treated by Surgicorps doctors in 2016 and his mother, Tshering, made the 2-day journey to Paro with Sonam and his little sister for continued treatment in 2017 and in 2018.  It required a series of surgeries to release the burn scar, remove scar tissue and graft new skin to the sites. Sonam appeared at the hospital for a review by the doctors again this year.  He was walking easily, running, jumping, bending over and kicking a soccer ball around.  He reported that there was nothing bothering him, and Dr. Demos declared his treatment a success.  His mother cried grateful tears and expressed her heartfelt appreciation for the medical repair work that has resulted in full mobility for her young son.

Samoa 2019: In the words of volunteer Margaret Mallady

I am so grateful that I was able to be a part of the second Samoan mission. As a first time member of a Surgicorps team, I didn’t know what it would be like. While on the final leg of my journey there, the plane full of Samoan travelers had a relaxed, chatty vibe that was an introduction to the personality of the residents.

The patients we saw also were relaxed, brave, grateful and just generally enjoyable. The personnel from Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital were pleasant and helpful, highly professional and welcoming.

My job as an operating room nurse was to either circulate or scrub on cases that would be routine in the U.S., but were a big deal for the Samoans who had tolerated their lesion, or their problem for years, needing surgery.

One teen who had surgical repair of his burn contractures of his hand was so grateful and hopeful that he would soon be able to play his piano and guitar.  He was fitted for post-op splints by our occupational therapist. An absolutely vital step for successful treatment for him.

Another child of about 9 years walked in the O.R. with his father, both smiling widely, and so pleased to be having a big surgery. He has a very large black facial birthmark over more than a third of his face and eye. The first stage was to remove the cheek portion and reconstruct with a skin graft.

Other patients had masses removed with beautiful plastic closures, repair of birth defects such as cleft lip and palate, or dermoid cysts, lipomas, and other lesions.

I was honored to be a part of these life-altering services. Working with the dedicated team from Surgicorps was inspiring. Their skills in patient care, combined with gentleness and compassion were quick and efficient.  The portion of the team screening and readying patients for surgery was skilled and efficient as well.  The work flowed smoothly due to good planning, love, and care.

I feel blessed and honored to have been a part of this group, and thankful to have been invited to join them.

Spotlight on 2019 Team Bhutan

Surgicorps will embark on our 13th visit to Paro, Bhutan from March 23 to April 2, 2019. A total of 12 talented and dedicated team members including 6 from Pennsylvania and 6 from other states will participate in fulfilling our mission of providing free surgical and medical services to people in need around the world.

We have 9 previous Surgicorps volunteers: Anne Argenta, Michele Misher-Harris, Merelise O’Connor, Naomi Quillopa, Warren Schubert, and Ron Stiller. Surgicorps Founder, Jack Demos, returns as Medical Director and Trip Coordinators will be Sheryl Lamb and Megan Natali.

Joining these experienced team members, we welcome 3 new volunteers: Courtney Mechling, Alex Praslick and James Swift. 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 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for trip updates and pictures. Safe travels, Team Bhutan!

VIDEO: Meet our volunteers

This past fall semester we partnered with Wood Street Communications at Point Park University to be paired with a student looking to share his talents with the non-profit community. Joshua Hutton was matched with us and produced this fantastic video highlighting some of our volunteers and their experiences working with Surgicorps. Thank you to Point Park University for creating an opportunity to connect non-profits with your talented students, thank you Joshua for such a great finished product, and thank you to our volunteers for all that you do to make Surigcorps a success! Enjoy the video below!

Surgicorps: Meet our volunteers

Our volunteers are what make the work we do possible. If you didn't see it last week, check out this video made by student, Josh, at Wood Street Communications of Point Park University

Posted by Surgicorps International on Tuesday, February 5, 2019


Surgicorps will embark on the second surgical mission to the Independent State of Samoa from February 16 – 23, 2019. There are a total of 16 team members including 7 from Pennsylvania and 9 from other states. Surgicorps will be working at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital in Apia.  

The veteran team members include Bill Bookwalter, Donna Bookwalter, Tara Burns, Jeff Chang, Lori Ellis, Jim Fleck, David Kim, Guy Leone, Lauren McGrath, Lynn Novier, Tamara Rychok and DeNese Olson. Welcome to new team members Margaret Mallady and Nadia Sundlass.

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 second 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!


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!

Surgicorps Guatemala 2018….Highlights by Cathy Boyle

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.

Surgicorps Experience – Kazakhstan 2018 by Dr. Ron Stiller

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:  http://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!

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