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Dr. Dorothy Gaal: Supporter Spotlight

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A person dies every two seconds due to an untreated surgical condition, according to the most recent research. ReSurge International is proud to be one of only a few organizations providing the full scope of reconstructive surgery care to patients in low-income countries around the globe – work that would be impossible without support from our network of donors and volunteers. This month’s donor spotlight features Dorothy Gaal, a long-time ReSurge volunteer and donor.

Dorothy was born in Connecticut to parents who were refugees from Austria and Hungary. The family later moved to Minnesota, which is where Dorothy grew up. Later, she attended the University of Minnesota Medical School and began her career in pediatric anesthesiology. Today, Dorothy works for Yale University. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Peter, and family members. Dorothy also pursues interests in the wilderness, hiking, camping, snowshoeing, the arts, and travel.

Dorothy has been a ReSurge International volunteer since the early 1990s. Over the years, she has been an active member of ReSurge’s anesthesia committee and medical services committee, which she currently chairs. She also recently retired from ReSurge’s Board of Directors after nine years of service.

You can learn more about Dorothy and her choice to be a ReSurge International volunteer and donor in the interview below.

Q: How and why did you become involved with ReSurge?

Dorothy: I became involved for several reasons – including my love of children and concern for their wellbeing, as well as an interest in international cultures, especially those of Indigenous groups. I was lucky enough to have the chance to participate in my first trip during my residency. Then, early on in my career at Yale, a colleague invited me on a ReSurge International (which at that time was called Interplast) trip to Honduras. I was fortunate to have Don Laub, Interplast founder, as a team leader. Two enthusiastic residents from our program participated as well. I was happy to share with the young folks these rich opportunities on this trip and on many others. Each individual team member (new or veteran, patient, family, local provider or resident) has a lot to offer. 

While this trip was fantastic, several years passed before I could participate again. Fortunately in the latter 1990s more opportunities arose for me to be involved with ReSurge – both for service trips and committee work.

Q: At a time of so many competing priorities, why is it important to you to support global reconstructive surgery specifically?

Dorothy: Of course, a major reason is the patients and their stories. How can one not want to help provide life-improving care for patients with congenital or acquired medical conditions?

ReSurge was a true pioneer in surgical global health initiatives. Today, many surgical subspecialties have patterned their approach to help meet the incredible global need, and all groups realize that we must evolve – that we need more collaborative efforts, including networking with global partners, to empower local providers. 

Q: What do you view as the biggest challenge in global reconstructive surgery at the moment?

Dorothy: I think the measures of success have really changed. Years ago, the surgeries (frequently cleft lip repair) were quick, limited in scope, and necessary resources. Perioperative management was straight-forward and generally easily learned by the local pediatricians, nurses, and anesthesiologists. Within a 1-2 week service trip over a hundred individuals could receive care. 

Today, ReSurge and its international partners recognize that addressing the global need for reconstructive surgery is much more complex. The required equipment and supplies involved are costly. Hospitalization, rehabilitation, and recovery may be longer. Patient acute and chronic medical problems may be complex. Training for all specialists is essential to safe, effective care. And this expansion needs to happen at every specialty – pediatrician, intensivist, nursing, anesthesiologist, OT/PT/speech therapist, surgeon, etc. In order to really meet the  global need, coordination, collaboration, and networking with multiple NGOs, health organizations, and governments is necessary. 

Q: What role do you think ReSurge plays in helping to address that challenge?

Dorothy: Within the organization, the ReSurge team has for years consisted of surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, nurses, and therapists. The importance of each specialty is well recognized, but for a long time, most of the enriching experiences were only for the surgeons. It’s important that ReSurge is extending more opportunities to the other specialists. This fosters training and safer care and also provides recognition that each member of the care team has equal value. 

Within the greater global community, ReSurge is collaborating with other NGOs, foundations, international regulatory bodies, and academic societies to help build capacity, develop in-country training programs, and facilitate individuals’ specialty certification.

Q: When you think about your involvement with ReSurge over the years, is there a particular patient story or experience that is top of mind?

Dorothy: When I think back, two patients really stand out. One was a newborn baby, Lakphat, and the other was a much older patient, which gives you some idea of the true breadth of surgical need. 

In Dehradun India, a family brought their newborn baby in after the baby suffered a deep rat bite to the nose. Normally this case would not be taken care of on a team trip, especially because of how young the child was. However, because of the expertise and comfort of the individuals involved, we went ahead with the surgery, and it was successful. Our international Surgical Outreach Partner, Dr. Kush Aeron, then provided follow-up care. Dr. Aaeron recently saw Lakphat for a check-up last year.

The other patient was an older woman who had multiple open fractures from an automobile accident. The ReSurge team provided consultation but found that the clinical situation was beyond the scope of what we were able to do in that facility. Still, we were able to offer her palliative, stabilizing surgical care. 

Q: Can you tell us about the ReSurge community and what it means to you?

Dorothy: The ReSurge community is like my second family. Peter and I have known some staff and volunteers for my entire career. Bonding between ReSurge team members and local specialists is especially strong during team and volunteer trips. Years ago, volunteers in the various specialties got together quarterly at the ReSurge office for committee meetings, socializing, and other team building activities. Now, following the global trend, those events are virtual. We treasure each friendship that’s resulted from my involvement with ReSurge. 

Q: Apart from your medical background, you are also a bit of an artist. Can you tell us more about your ReSurge art?

Dorothy: (laughs) Artist! I’m not sure about that, but I do try. At Yale, I began making colorful, individualized dressings for children – specifically to cover their IVs. Then on a trip to Cambodia with ReSurge, I started doing the same for the children there. The team members, patients, local providers, and families were all very interested in the covers I made. Most of the time, surgeons and volunteers are eager to photograph the results before surgical dressings go on. But my IV dressings got more attention and more screen time!

When ReSurge was preparing for its 50th Transformations Gala, they asked me to create a montage of the bandages as an auction item. Peter and I recognized that the material is fragile, and we decided colorful archival paper was more suitable for such a project. The creation was a joy to make, and I think it illustrated many aspects of ReSurge. It ended up sparking some pretty lively bidding, and I’m thankful it helped raise funds to further ReSurge’s efforts.

Without donors and volunteers like Dorothy, Resurge International’s work in answering the global need for reconstructive surgery would be impossible.

If you’re interested in contributing to ReSurge, you can visit our website to give now.

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