How Operation International Performed Four First-Ever Surgeries In Bhutan

March 27, 2023

When the 20 medical professionals on Team NY wrapped up Operation International’s first-ever trip to Bhutan last week, they made history – and not just for the organization.

The successful week-long medical mission at Mongar Regional Referral Hospital not only marked Operation International’s first trip to the South Asian country, but also, thanks to the expertise of the team, the first time four operations by the team were performed in Bhutan’s history.

These life-changing surgeries included operations on two cancer patients who otherwise would have sat on a long waiting list hoping to be transferred for medical help in another country, a facial reconstruction that likely wouldn’t have happened at all had it not been for Operation International, and a higher-tech laparoscopic hernia repair that lessened a patient’s hospital stay and recovery time.

“For these patients, it [was] like winning the lottery ticket,” Operation International Founder and Chairman Dr. Medhat Allam said. “It was very gratifying for all of us. We are changing people’s lives.”

The History-Making Details

Perhaps the most impressive of the first-ever surgeries were the two operations on cancer patients who were on the long waiting list for transfer to other countries for treatment.  This is a common problem cancer patients face in Bhutan given the fact that Bhutan does not have an oncological surgeon within its borders.

The first of the two was a young lady, who had a potentially curable form of pancreatic cancer. This patient underwent a successful tumor resection by the team, and most likely will not require any further cancer treatments. The second patient was a young man who received a successful laparoscopic resection of gastric cancer. A final pathology report will determine if he requires additional therapy.

Dr. Fernando Almas, the facial reconstructive surgeon with Team NY was able to perform the first-ever facial reconstruction of a case of micrognathia, a congenital anomaly that creates an undersized lower jaw resulting in severe facial deformity. Given the lack of expertise along with the complexity of the surgery the patient never received treatment, but rather lived her childhood and most of adult life with that deformity trying to avoid the looks on people’s faces when they saw her for the first time.

When it came to the patient with an inguinal hernia, the Operation International team marked the first time the repair was done laparoscopically instead of by open surgery. The higher-tech approach allows less pain, a shorter hospital stay, and faster recovery time and return to work compared to the open surgery that would have been used.

The patient was up and walking without pain within four hours of the procedure, “I am really HAPPY,” he wrote in a thank you message to the surgeons. “From the very deep of my heart thanks to all the team members for their well planned and tremendous job.”

More Lasting Impact

Operation International’s impact of course extended beyond these history-making surgeries.

Team NY donated tens of thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies and equipment to the hospital that will expand the types of procedures the local doctors can perform.

In addition, the team spent time teaching the local medical personnel not only about each surgery, but also day-to-day protocols that will improve the efficiency and safety of their care well after the medical mission is over. 

“I knew how to close some of the defect in a patient with cleft lip and/or palate, but never knew how to both close all the defect and provide acceptable cosmetic outcome at same time, now I finally know how to do it, and for that I am grateful”, said Dr. Chandra Dutt Rai the oral surgeon at Mongar hospital. Team NY completed 16 cleft lip and palate repair surgeries while in Bhutan.

“This mission is going to have an everlasting effect on these people for years to come,” Dr. Allam said.