Dr Dilip Gahankari shares memories from his most recent trip to remote India to perform life-changing surgeries

It has taken a while for me to write a blog about my Plastic Surgery Charity Camp this year. 2019 started with a bang and before I knew it, a few months slipped away in a breeze.

2018 was the 12th year of my Charity Camp in India, and the 11th at our regular site of Utavali, where myself and a team of medical professionals, travel to India to perform life-changing procedures on people who may not otherwise have access to Reconstructive Surgery. It is all done on a voluntary basis and is a source of great satisfaction and pride for us all.

Utavali is a tiny village in remote tribal area of Central Maharashtra at the fringe of beautiful Melghat Tiger reserve.

The camp started on December 21 and finished on Christmas Day.
Jodie joined us again with her skilled hands making several beautiful splints, and Bethanie was amazing in the theatres with her theatre nursing experience.

My good mate and Plastic Surgeon Dr Ravi Mahajani not only came but also brought along anaesthetist Dr Helge and his partner and nurse Joanne. They all made invaluable contributions.


We were also very fortunate to have several of my local friends and Plastic Surgeons, Dr Amol Dhopte and Dr Amol Patel), and Dr Amol Patel, as well as Dr Samrat Taori – (our local Orthopaedic Surgeon). Dr Gopal Gurjar, an Onco-surgeon from Nagpur also came along to provide his skilled help with a couple of difficult head and neck tumours.

But the most important contribution this year was from the anaesthetists. Along with Dr Helge from Australia, we had several local anaesthetists from Akola, Pune and Mumbai. The regulars were there such as Dr Nitin Borakhade with his exceptional skills of blocks, along with Dr Sachin Pawaskar, Dr Anjali Kolhe and Dr Sharayu Mankar who loves to come to the camp also to catch up with Dr Kavita, who works tirelessly to organise Charity Camp for us prior to us arriving.

But the standout this year was Dr Maya Bhalerao, who came for the first time. From Day 1, Maya sat beside us seeing patients as we did consults with them, and assessed them simultaneously for anaesthetic.

In the 12 years of running Charity Camp, we have never had this luxury of having patients assessed for pre-anaesthetic check-ups and I think this made a huge difference to our efficiency.

There were also some prominent absentees. Dr Shalesh Nisal, my great mate and Plastic Surgeon from Nagpur, Dr Kevin Huang, Hand surgeon extraordinaire from Brisbane, who bowed out of this year’s camp, and Dr Vijay Chandak, the anaesthetist extraordinaire who I have known for nearly 40 years, and who had to withdraw this year because of family commitments.

There were several highlights of this camp. Dr Ashish and Dr Kavita organised a brand new theatre with new lights. This was the first time in past 11 years where we had no power failures, and no issues with lights, air conditioners or Boyle’s machines.

This was therefore the most efficient camp we ever had. We ran five tables in the operation theatre and at times, it was chaotic as it often is. However, it all worked with perfect rhythm. We managed to finish the camp with a day to spare and have a lovely finishing ceremony.

All cases went well, even though we had some really difficult ones.

A young man with severe bilateral knee contractures because of burns, who came crawling to our clinic – had his both knees straightened in one operation with extensive skin grafts. A few weeks after camp, Ashish sent us a video of this chap walking straight on his feet. This was priceless.

This was therefore the most efficient camp we ever had. We ran five tables in the operation theatre and at times, it was chaotic as it often is. However, it all worked with perfect rhythm. We managed to finish the camp with a day to spare and have a lovely finishing ceremony.

All cases went well, even though we had some really difficult ones.

A young man with severe bilateral knee contractures because of burns, who came crawling to our clinic – had his both knees straightened in one operation with extensive skin grafts. A few weeks after camp, Ashish sent us a video of this chap walking straight on his feet. This was priceless.

We had another young chap with a massive tumour in neck sitting on carotid sheath; a little 4 year old girl with severe burn contracture with her fingers curled up like a ball; and a lady, who had a recurrent parotid tumour after my initial surgery 11 years ago; a cancer inside the mouth; and a number of deformities, tumours and disfigurations.

I personally also enjoyed doing corrective surgery for a few children with cleft lip deformities as well.

All in all, we managed to do 126 procedures this year – more than in any previous year. We don’t intend to create records in this camp, but this was the maximum number of operations we have done in three days of operating.

But the most notable highlight was that we crossed the magic number of 1000 procedures performed in the past 11 years. I personally can’t wait to go back next year again!!

I have to thank Dr Ashish and Dr Kavita Satao, who are the key personnel, whose timeless efforts make this camp happen, the local organisers and the best husband-wife team I know. They are so dedicated and hardworking, and do it with constant smiles on their faces.

Last, but certainly not the least, it is also important for me to take this opportunity to profusely thank our generous donors – ‘Caring Friends’ organisation from Mumbai, Mrs Coyle and Mr Condon from Australia. Because of them, we are able to continue this vital work, and I am forever grateful for their philanthropic spirit.

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