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What I Learned Firsthand on the Ground in Dehradun

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By Tom Seery

I spent the first days of 2020 in Dehradun, India as part of a visiting educator trip with ReSurge CEO Jeff Whisenant and Dr. Marshall Partington, a plastic surgeon from my hometown of Seattle. It was an emotional experience visiting the Yogi’s Helping Hands clinic, both in terms of the impact the doctors were making and the courage of the patients and their families to improve their lives.

I joined the ReSurge board five years ago because I’m fully bought into the mission of building capacity for reconstructive surgical care in developing countries. But being able to witness this work up close only deepened my appreciation for this organization’s partnership-driven approach to bringing access to reconstructive surgery to millions.

Here are three elements of ReSurge’s work that my experience at Helping Hands affirmed.

The necessity of scaling surgical expertise globally

I know from running RealSelf that plastic surgery is often about more than building confidence. It’s also about facilitating patients’ overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being—and sometimes it’s about helping to heal and restore bodies that have suffered trauma. Still, I encountered cases on this trip that one would rarely, if ever, see in the U.S., including severe untreated burns, injuries from accidents, and serious deformities.

Bearing direct witness to the human toll of these injuries, then multiplying that suffering across millions more who are impacted, only reinforced how critical it is that ReSurge continue to expand the skills and training of local surgeons and medical staff. These skills are sorely needed in places across the globe where the availability of these treatments isn’t driven by market-based demand.

Surgery is the start, but not the finish line

When meeting patients at the clinic and a remote village, it became clear to me that access to care is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to long and difficult recoveries, many patients struggle to get to the clinic due to the lack of funds, transportation, or ability to take time away from a job or role supporting their families.

I also saw how poverty and the severity of injuries exacerbates every other aspect of their experience, from the surgery prep, to the surgery itself, to their recovery. These challenges need to be understood and accounted for in order for local patients to consistently get the care they need.

The enduring partnership that ReSurge has forged with Helping Hands is paving the way. I was impressed by the levels of joint understanding on standards and practices, outreach to the local communities, as well as the rapport between ReSurge and local staff. Technical training is critical, but relationships built on mutual respect, understanding, and learning are a necessary foundation for the type of collaboration that makes a difference for underserved patients.

The work to be done

While I am proud that RealSelf was the sponsor of this trip, I know that the global need for medical services and training is too vast for us to be comfortable with a single gesture of support. Sharing these experiences with my team inspired us to think about the ways we’re uniquely positioned to contribute.

As a platform that reached over 100 million consumers last year, we decided to do more to raise awareness of the work doctors are doing to make a difference. My team has since launched Beyond Beauty, an immersive new content series that shares stories of generosity and giving within the surgical community. We also share recommendations for organizations our community should consider giving back to—including ReSurge. We love that this approach embodies the community-minded ethos that has powered ReSurge’s success in steadily closing the gap in access to vital medical care.

Tom Seery is the founder and CEO of RealSelf. Tom has been a ReSurge board member since 2015.

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