Dr. Vinita Puri is a true humanitarian. She is a professor and the head of the plastic and reconstructive surgery department at KEM hospital in Mumbai, India, and has been a proud Resurge Surgical Outreach Partner for more than seven years. Dr. Puri has dedicated her life and career to caring for patients with low incomes, in particular, women and children who have survived burn injuries. Dr. Puri’s compassion for her patients drives her to provide holistic care to those who need it most.
We caught up with Dr. Puri to learn more about her motivation and inspiration.
Tell me a little about yourself and your background.
My name is Vinita Puri and I was brought up in the city of Mumbai in India. As a child, I was very curious. I liked to see how things worked so I would always open up things like radios or tape recorders. My parents and I thought I might become an engineer, but it makes sense that I became a reconstructive surgeon. I like doing this with my hands—painting and arts and crafts. I think I’ve carried that through into my profession.
Why did you decide to pursue training in reconstructive surgery in particular?
I had one incident that is very close to my heart. I remember as a medical student I encountered a young child, maybe eight or nine years old, who was attached to a ventilator. His father was waiting near his bed, the look on his face really affected me emotionally. The father was waiting with resignation beside his comatose son. Even though I was still a student I knew my calling was to make a difference and help give recourse to patients and their families. Then one day during my residency, I was asked to care for a woman with 60-70% burns, which inspired me to want to help burn patients. I was drawn to reconstructive surgery because it can make a huge impact on people’s lives. I do microsurgery, I do hand surgery, and I’ve even been the lead surgeon and team leader for hand transplants which are rare in our country and across the world. You can learn more about my hand transplant work here.
What case or patient stands out to you the most and why?
There are quite a few. About 15 years ago, a young woman came to me with a very severe burn scar contracture–her chin was attached to her chest. She had been living like that for about a year or two. Her family didn’t have the means to pay for her care, and at that time we didn’t have a partnership with ReSurge yet to sponsor her surgery.
In those days we had to privately raise donations to help patients like her. I operated on her and released the contracture. Then about eight years later, I saw her again. She told me that her burns were suicidal burns due to the pressures she was facing at home. She told me she was now adjusting much better to society. I helped her with a few additional surgeries to help improve her facial scars.
Our burn patients tend to be mostly women. There is a genuine social issue where at times women are not provided medical services the way males in the family are. One of my women patients was cast out by her husband’s family because she suffered an injury. Thankfully I was able to operate on her. Then a few years later her husband’s family called her back home to care for her husband when he got sick.
I work in a public hospital so about 80% of my patients come from disadvantaged backgrounds and can’t afford to go to a private hospital. We have great doctors and equipment, but we have a huge caseload and sometimes it’s hard to accommodate everyone early.
How did you become involved with ReSurge?
I know a senior surgeon who is close with ReSurge Consulting Medical Officer, Dr. James Chang. Dr. Chang and Resurge sent a team of medical volunteers to meet me and my hospital. They saw the kind of care we were providing and started the process to certify me as an official ReSurge Surgical Outreach Partner. Because of this partnership, we have been able to help a large number of disadvantaged patients because ReSurge will pay for their postoperative aids like splints and pressure garments and surgeries too. ReSurge also provides life-long training opportunities. I have been able to meet so many people through Resurge, and it’s a very warm community to be a part of. One of ReSurge’s donors has also supported our pediatric burn camp. These camps are safe places for children that survived burn accidents to come together in a joyful and compassionate space.
What are your goals for the future of reconstructive surgery in your country?
I have a strong wish for there to be more programs for the prevention of burns. I also hope to bring forward a transplant program for all young patients who are double amputees. It’s a big dream of mine that this type of reconstruction is more common in our country.
It’s important for me to impart to my residents the importance of empathy. One of the ways we do this is by offering our services to surgical camps in rural areas across our country. Many patients don’t know about or have access to reconstructive surgical care, and it’s my dream that we can change that and provide reconstruction for those who need it.