Before-And-After Photos Show The Life-Changing Effects Free Surgery Has Had In The Developing World

ReSurge is an organization that's provided more than 100,000 surgeries in 15 developing countries.

Before-And-After Photos Show The Life-Changing Effects Free Surgery Has Had In The Developing World

Across the developing world, there are 143 million surgical procedures needed for everything from burns to cleft palate. The non-profit ReSurge and its partners are trying to change that.

By using a network of doctors across the globe, residency programs and funding that allows it to offer cost-free surgeries, ReSurge has provided more than 100,000 surgeries in 15 different developing countries. Each surgery has the potential to drastically change a life. 

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"Having spent almost 27 years taking care of these children, I have seen a lot of changes in their life," Dr. Shankar Man Rai, a surgeon and co-director for the ReSurge Surgical Outreach Program, told A Plus. "Children born with cleft, deserted by their parents, were raised by somebody else and after surgery, they have a normal life. Some of them have become nurses, some of them have become engineers."

Before-and-after photo of a ReSurge patient. ReSurge

Dr. Rai, who is based in Nepal, is world-renowned for his expertise in cleft palate and burn injury surgeries. That expertise makes him particularly valuable for ReSurge's mission because burn injuries and cleft palate are most common in the developing world. Rai said that more children in southeast Asia between the ages of 5 and 14 years old die from burn injuries than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV and AIDS combined. 

Through ReSurge, where he founded the Surgical Outreach Program in 1999, he's given over 12,000 free surgeries. The non-profit is funded primarily through individual donors, family foundations, corporate partnerships and a network of doctors and volunteers who donate their time to the program. While Rai and other surgeons receive a salary, ReSurge Communications and Marketing Director Anne Cavanaugh noted that he, and most participating surgeons, could make more money through private practice. Instead, they've chosen a more humanitarian medical path. 

During a phone call with A Plus, Rai explained that burn injuries are more common because of how often open fires are used in the developing world. Not only do so many families cook using open fires, but in many villages across the globe, open fires are kept burning through the night to keep families warm. That means the women, who generally spend more time cooking, are at a greater risk of burns, and children, sometimes left unattended, are more liable to injure themselves.

"The children who are playing around when the parents are working in the field, in the daytime or at night, they can get hungry and they crawl onto the fire at the ground level," Rai explained. "We do not put out the fires in the village because we have to keep it on so the room is warmer."

Before-and-after photo of a ReSurge patient. ReSurge

One of the biggest risks of burn injuries is what happens to the skin in the aftermath. Oftentimes, contraction of the skin when it heals can cause the loss of function in limbs that no longer move properly. In the developing world, where hard labor is often relied on to make a living or feed your family, the fallout from a serious burn injury can destroy a person's career prospects or impact their ability to provide for their family.

But Rai, and the other trained ReSurge surgeons, offer an opportunity to reverse that course. Rai's motivation for becoming a trained surgeon stemmed from how helpless he often felt as a physician. Aside from giving stitches, he felt like he couldn't do as much to help the many surgical conditions he came across. 

"I remember very clearly when people used to call me to help do baby deliveries in their home," Rai said. "On my way to their homes I used to pray to God to make the delivery normal."

Before-and-after photo of a ReSurge patient. ReSurge

Now, though, he can handle just about anything.

While there is still a lot of scientific debate about the causes of cleft palate and the reasons it is more common in some regions compared to others,  Rai described it as a genetic disposition. Asians are most likely to have cleft palate and in regions where malnourishment is an issue it seems that cleft is more common, Rai said. And the repercussions in the developing world can be devastating: children and especially women are often shunned, and people with cleft palate are typically devoid of career opportunities.

From his thousands of surgeries, Rai has come across several that stuck with him. He spoke of a young girl born with cleft palate whose father left her because of the disfigurement. After a surgery Rai performed, he saw her regain a normal life and get another chance at real career opportunities. One Indian woman, 17 at the time, had her house set ablaze by in-laws who did not want to pay her dowry. Severe burns to her legs left her walking on her forelimbs, but after he operated on her she began walking with the help of calipers.

Through free surgeries and its communications team, ReSurge has effectively gotten the word out to rural communities about the opportunity to get corrective surgery.

"In most communities where we are now, people know that we can take care of them without much financial involvement," Rai said. "People in general know that this is something that we can take care of and this is something that is correctable, not just the surgical aspect but also the therapy aspect."

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