Riverhead surgeons help poor families around the world Rotary has been supporting Dr Rajesh Patel's International Surgical Mission Support team with donations for several years.

Riverhead surgeon Rajesh Patel, with a baby he helped deliver in Brazil. Courtesy photo: Rajesh Patel.
Riverhead surgeon Rajesh Patel with a baby he helped deliver in Brazil. Courtesy photo: Rajesh Patel.

Memories from every one of the medical mission trips taken by Dr Rajesh Patel are forever etched in the Riverhead physician’s mind.

Standing at a lectern in front of fellow members of the Riverhead Rotary Club (New York, District 7255) at a recent meeting, Patel scrolls through the images that appear on the large monitor behind him. He may not remember the names of the dozens of patients he and his medical team treated in far-flung countries around the globe, but he remembers their cases.

“This little girl was only 16 years old, brought in by her husband,” he says of a patient in Brazil in 2001. “She was seizing, frothing — obviously eclampsia.” The clinic’s three anesthesia machines were all broken, Patel recalls.

“We had been trying to grab parts from two so we could fix one up to work” when the pregnant young woman arrived, he said. Eclampsia is a life-threatening condition. “We had to act right away.” The doctors did an emergency C-section.

“Miraculously, the baby survived,” Patel says smiling. The happy parents named the little boy after the trio of doctors who delivered him and saved his mother’s life. “Somewhere in Brazil, there’s a guy today with three names: a Muslim name and Hindu name and a Christian name,” Patel says.

“Here is a 42-year-old man in Peru who had a clef lip and palate. He could not get it fixed and so he never smiled,” Patel says. The next image appears. “This is his first smile ever.”

Patel continues through his slide show. Some of the images are not for the faint of heart. (“I took out all the gory ones this time,” Patel assures his friends in Rotary.) He narrates the images one by one, telling the story of each patient’s needs and what he and members of his surgical team did to help them.

“This is Tanzania, our last trip. A baby was just born and the nurses came running in shouting that a baby was born with two heads. Well it was not really two heads. There was a sack of fluid. We had never done neurosurgery,” Patel recalls. “We are general surgeons. But we had no choice. We performed the surgery and saved this baby.”

Patel is a member of International Surgical Mission Support, a volunteer organization of doctors and nurses created in 1996 to provide free medical care to the poor all over the world.

He is a member of the organisation’s board of directors and, with the New York team, has made 22 surgical mission trips over the past 20 years, providing medical and surgical care to poor people in Africa, South America, Central America, India and Asia.

. So when the Rotary Club agreed to take over running Peconic Bay Medical Center’s annual Garden Festival, one of the hospital’s big fundraising events held just before Mother’s Day each year, it seemed fitting that the surgical mission team should be a beneficiary of the event, along with the hospital.

The Garden Festival offers local residents potted plants, flats, shrubs, trees — many grown by local nurseries and greenhouses that generously donate their plants — during a four-day tent sale in the Office Max parking lot at Tanger Outlets.

The sale takes place this year on Thursday, May 11 through Saturday, May 13 from 9 am to 6 pm and on Sunday, Mother’s Day, May 14, from 9 am to 2 pm.

The club’s fundraising effort got a leg up thanks to Riverhead Rotary president Beth Hanlon, an Allstate Insurance agent who was able to secure a $10,000 Allstate Foundation grant to support the Garden Festival’s causes.

The Allstate Foundation encouraged agents to apply as a group and to actually work at a particular event, Hanlon said. “So not only do we get the grant, we’ve got 10 additional volunteers to help out.”

Patel will be on hand to help sell plants at some point during the Garden Festival — after he overcomes jet lag, anyway. He left for a surgical mission trip to the Philippines on April 28 and will return Wednesday. 

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