Lawrence restaurant owner organizes medical mission trip to native country Nepal
- on December 23, 2011
Subarna Bhattachan, a chef and Lawrence restaurant owner, returns to his native country Nepal every two years to visit family. This fall, his visit was extra special because he coordinated a medical mission to provide free care to the rural poor population.
“It was a way for me to give back and do some humanitarian work,” he said. “Health care is pretty accessible in the urban areas, but not the rural areas. Whether it’s the topography or the weather, doctors don’t want to go to those areas.”
Bhattachan, 42, spent 18 months recruiting volunteers, making travel plans and raising money after Dr. Antonio Racela Jr., founder of the Kansas City-based nonprofit World Outreach Foundation, contacted him about doing the foundation’s first trip to Nepal.
Racela said the mission trip wouldn’t have been possible without Bhattachan’s expertise about the area and ability to speak Nepali.
“Subarna did all of the arrangements, which is quite a lot, and not only Subarna but all of his relatives helped,” Racela said.
Typically, Racela said about 25 people go on a trip, but Bhattachan helped recruit 42 volunteers, including Lawrence residents Bridget Patti and Dr. Bill Dixon. Bhattachan’s wife, Amanda, a triage nurse for Kansas University Physicians, also volunteered. So, they divided into two teams for the mission trip, which was Oct. 28 to Nov. 8.
The surgical team was located at a medical college in Pokhara, a large city, and another clinical team was located in the District of Mustang, pronounced Moose-tahn, which is about 25 minutes northwest of Pokhara by air, but 12 hours by bus because there’s only a single gravel road to get there. It’s a sparsely populated area in the mountains, and that’s where the Bhattachans spent their time. They stayed in Tukche, which is Subarna’s ancestral village.
“From a personal perspective that was something, giving back to our own community where my parents grew up, so that was very exciting,” he said.
Subarna said the majority of people in Nepal are farmers; they live on the food that they grow. He said most of the people do not receive health care because they can’t take time off of work. Also, services are provided on a cash-only basis, and they are very poor. He said the average annual income in U.S. dollars is about $480.
During the four-day medical clinic, he helped translate for the doctors. The most common problems were: high blood pressure, knee pain, stomach issues and allergies.
“The topography in Mustang is very dry. It’s a high mountain dessert and very windy. Also, most of them cook with wood fire inside their house and so the smoke and soot stays inside,” he said.
He quickly learned that a lot of women suffer from uterine prolapse, where the uterus falls from its normal position into the vaginal area. He said one of the reasons is because women go back to working too soon. He also said that there are no obstetricians or gynecologists in the area and that a nurse takes care of the women who seek care; however, most women opt to have their babies in their homes.
He said there is no dental care because the closest dentist is a 12-hour bus ride away. Very few people even have a toothbrush. Bhattachan estimated they did 35 extractions per day. He’s hopeful that a dentist will soon locate in Tukche because the foundation donated $24,000 worth of equipment, supplies and medicine for a dental clinic.
The clinical team saw 450 people and gave away medications, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toys and hats. The surgical team provided 46 surgeries, from joint replacements to fixing a cleft lip.
The World Outreach Foundation along with its sister organization, the Kansas City World Outreach Lions Club, raised about $40,000 for the trip. Each participate raised $2,800 to pay for their own expenses.
Bhattachan, who owns La Parrilla, Genovese and Zen Zero in downtown Lawrence, lived in Nepal until age 18 and then moved to Kansas to attend Bethel College. He said he never realized how great the need was until the trip.
“I go there every couple of years. I say, ‘Hi and hello,’ but I don’t really know what’s wrong with them,” he said. “So, it was a good experience and self-satisfying.”