A local plastic surgeon and registered nurse are part of a medical team heading for Nepal to perform life-changing operations for victims of the recent devastating earthquakes in the impoverished country at the base of the Himalayas.
Dr. Munish Batra, 49, of Rancho Santa Fe, and Amber Cheffins Gurung, 36, of Encinitas, will join a group of surgeons and nurses in performing dozens of operations for those who have suffered traumatic crushing or burn injuries in two massive earthquakes that struck April 25 and May 12. The first temblor registered 7.8, while the second struck at a magnitude of 7.3. More than 8,000 people are reported dead as a result of the two quakes.
Batra, who practices at an office in Carmel Valley, said team members are concerned about the region’s volatility, and one surgeon canceled after the second quake. But he still plans to board the plane June 5 for the journey to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
“You just hope for the best … I feel like we’ll let down literally hundreds of people if we don’t show up. I feel like I can’t let them down,” said Batra, the father of two young children, who has been making such humanitarian medical trips for more than a decade.
Cheffins Gurung, an experienced operating room nurse, said she was “a little nervous” after the second quake, but has been reassured by talking to people she knows who continue working in Nepal. She is part of an advance team that will procure supplies, set up the operating room and screen patients before surgeons arrive, and she planned to depart Tuesday, May 26.
“I’m not scared enough not to go,” she said.
Batra volunteers his surgical skills on humanitarian missions yearly, in countries ranging from his native India to Mexico. In some cases, the mission is in response to a disaster, such as the tsunami that struck India, Thailand and other areas in 2004. Other times, the team assists poor people who could not otherwise afford surgery.
The patients’ ailments run the gamut, from cleft palates to severe fractures to disfiguring burns. On a recent trip to India, Batra operated on a woman who suffered debilitating injuries when her husband threw acid in her face.
On the upcoming Nepal trip, the surgeons will be kept busy operating on people who were injured in the earthquakes.
“They’re not necessarily life-saving (operations), but they are life-changing. It gets them back into a functional mode,” said Cheffins Gurung, who will assist in the operating room.
Some Nepalese lost their homes, businesses and families in one brief, brutal convulsion of the Earth’s surface. “To go and do something good for them, give them some hope there is still good in the world and give them something to live for … it just feels right,” she said.
Batra will be in Nepal for eight to 10 days. During that time, he expects to personally perform 25 to 30 operations in a series of grueling 18-hour days.
“You get up, have your tea or coffee, and you just keep going until you’re too exhausted to operate,” he said.
The team will perform operations at two different hospitals — one in Kathmandu, and the other in the village of Helambu.
The team members volunteer their time, and are raising money to pay for supplies. A “Go Fund Me” page has been set up to accept donations at https://www.gofundme.com/asips. Any money raised beyond what is needed for this mission will be donated to relief groups working in Nepal, said Cheffins Gurung.
When Batra and Cheffins Gurung are not traveling on humanitarian medical missions, they are kept busy at home.
She runs her own business, Pacific Coast Triage, and also works as a surgical nurse. Batra works at his plastic surgery practice, and tries to keep up with his two young sons, a 2-year-old toddler and a 7-month-old infant. He credited his wife, Pooja, with supporting his volunteer work, helping him arrange his trips, and advising him on the best use of resources.
Batra, who said he grew up in one of the poorest areas of India, feels blessed by his family and professional success, and wants to give back.
“You can do an operation that will make a significant impact on someone within a couple of hours,” he said. “I’ve got to go back and do something for these people.”