5 Things We Learned from Dr. Shankar Man Rai

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ReSurge International recently hosted Transformational Conversations: An Evening with Dr. Shankar Man Rai, a world-renowned Nepali surgeon and humanitarian. As a pioneer in reconstructive surgery, Dr. Rai has transformed thousands of lives in Nepal and beyond. His tireless efforts, supported by ReSurge donors, have revolutionized access to surgical care in Nepal, from establishing a residency program to creating rural outreach centers.

Our CEO, Claire Lachance, led a discussion filled with inspiring stories and insightful discussions about the world of reconstructive surgery.

Here are five key takeaways from our evening with Dr. Rai:

1. The Power of Reconstructive Surgery

Dr. Rai shared his journey into the field of reconstructive surgery, a path that was not initially on his radar. He had been considering neurosurgery or cardiac surgery, as there was a significant lack of specialists in these fields in Nepal. However, a chance meeting with a team of medical volunteers from ReSurge International in 1992 changed his trajectory.

“I suddenly saw my future of helping the needy people in Nepal,” Dr. Rai shared.

He saw the potential of reconstructive surgery to change lives, especially for those who are “unlucky” – those who have suffered burns, road traffic accidents, or were born with congenital conditions. Inspired by the work of ReSurge International, Dr. Rai decided to specialize in reconstructive surgery so that he could create an immediate impact in the lives of his patients, and transform their lives through his work.

When Shankar first met the ReSurge team there was no training available in Nepal, so he had to go to Bangladesh to get the training and how that inspired him to start the residency program.

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Since 1999, Dr. Rai and his team have impacted more than 23,000 burn survivors and cleft patients, demonstrating the transformative power of reconstructive surgery.

2. Building a Program from Scratch and Sustaining It

When Dr. Rai first met the ReSurge team and was inspired to become a reconstructive surgeon, there was no training available in his home country and he had to go to Bangladesh. Later, with the support of ReSurge International, he took the monumental step of establishing the reconstructive surgery residency program in Nepal. This initiative was a game-changer, revolutionizing the landscape of reconstructive surgical care in Nepal and bringing hope and healing to thousands.

But building the program was just the first step. Sustaining it and ensuring its growth required ongoing support and resources. Here, too, ReSurge International stepped up. Through the Surgical Outreach Partner program, ReSurge supports local partners like Dr. Rai by paying for the direct care of their patients experiencing poverty. This financial support ensures that the most vulnerable patients can access the life-changing care they need.

In addition to financial support, ReSurge International also contributes to the program’s growth and quality by sending world-class teaching medical volunteers. These volunteers provide hands-on training and online learning opportunities for the residents, ensuring that they are equipped with the latest knowledge and skills in the field of reconstructive surgery. ReSurge also supports three local burn, plastics, and hand fellowships in Nepal each year. Learn more about ReSurge’s programs here.

3. Reaching the Most Remote Patients

Dr. Rai’s commitment to serving the underserved is evident in his outreach work. His team have established five outreach centers in rural areas across the country where patients can get the care they need in their own backyard.

“We have been doing outreach programs in the rural areas of Nepal. We have been going to the patients rather than the patients coming to us,” Dr. Rai said.

These outreach programs have been crucial in providing access to reconstructive surgery for patients living in remote areas. His innovative approach has broken down barriers, ensuring that even the most remote communities have access to life-changing care. The story of Sujana, a young burn survivor, or Aarati, who received cleft care despite geographic and cultural barriers, shows just how important it is to reach rural patients where they are.

Sujana with her mother in their rural village

4. The Importance of Holistic Care

Dr. Rai’s approach to patient care goes beyond surgery. He emphasizes the importance of holistic care in reconstructive surgery, understanding that surgery is just one part of the process. Post-operative care, including physiotherapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy, is crucial to ensure the best outcomes for patients.

A shining example of this holistic approach is the Speech Therapy Camps in Nepal, which Dr. Rai has been instrumental in establishing. These camps provide a safe space for patients like Padam Thupa, a 14-year-old boy born with a cleft lip and palate in rural Nepal. Here, patients receive not only speech therapy but also build a community, access dental care, and gain confidence in themselves. These camps are a testament to Dr. Rai’s commitment to comprehensive patient care and the transformative power of holistic healing.

5. Inspiration for the Future

Dr. Rai’s words were not just about the past and present but also about the future. His vision for expanding reconstructive surgery in Nepal and his dedication to his patients are truly inspiring. His work over the past 30 years in Nepal is a shining example of the ReSurge model in action. Now, we are replicating that model all over the world, and sending the next generation of reconstructive surgeons to train with Dr. Rai from countries like Mozambique, Vietnam, Bhutan, and Zimbabwe.

“Now it is our time to help in whatever capacity we can, by helping these other countries to develop their capacities. For example, the surgeon you mentioned from Bhutan is going to be the first plastic surgeon for the whole country. The female plastic surgery trainee from Mozambique, her name is Angela, some of you know her. She is going to be the fourth plastic surgeon for the whole country of Mozambique with 30 million people. I remember that because Nepal also has 30 million. It is our time to help.”

We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Rai for his partnership and his unwavering commitment to changing lives through reconstructive surgery. His story is a testament to the power of dedication, compassion, and the belief that everyone deserves access to safe, affordable, and timely surgical care.

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We are grateful for our opportunity to touch the lives of those needing surgical treatment worldwide and grow sustainable systems for local surgical teams in low-income countries. However, we cannot make an impact without your support. Donate today to create a ripple effect that changes the world through life-changing, no-cost reconstructive surgeries.