Meet the Mentors of Cambodia’s Pediatric Surgeons

November 18, 2020

Meet the Mentors of Cambodia’s Pediatric Surgeons

Over the past decade, Dr Kevin Gandhi has volunteered at AHC every year to perform life-saving surgery on Cambodian children and build the capacity of AHC’s surgical unit. He is one of the many volunteers helping develop AHC’s paediatric subspecialty care and education.

Dr Gandhi specialises in diseases and disorders of the urinary tract and reproductive organs, as well as congenital defects of the kidneys and bladder. He’s based at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Washington, USA.

His principal motivation for volunteering at AHC is to improve paediatric surgery available to Cambodia’s children, playing a constructive role in the development of AHC’s surgical unit. Today, the unit is lead by two highly skilled paediatric surgeons, Dr Vuthy and Dr Vanthy, who in turn pass their specialist skills down to the younger surgeons training in-hospital.

Dr. Gandhi Surgery
Dr Kevin Gandhi performing a neuroblastoma surgery to remove a abdominal tumor at AHC.

“I have seen so many changes at AHC over the years. It has been wonderful to watch the hospital grow despite the obvious challenges Cambodian healthcare faces. All the surgeons have become more proficient with all aspects of genito-urinary paediatric surgery and the post-op management has improved simply with increased familiarity with new procedures.”

Dr Kevin Gandhi

Under Dr Gandhi’s skilled guidance, AHC’s surgery team can now perform select surgeries for Cambodian children who cannot access treatment anywhere else in the country. AHC’s own Cambodian surgical team now perform complex hypospadias and hydronephrosis bladder surgeries that can take 3-4 hours to complete, without the need for specialist volunteer support.

“During my earlier visits, I remember telling my wife I was exhausted because I was doing so many difficult cases in a short space of time. But over the last few years, my caseload has decreased, giving me more time to train the staff new skills.” – Dr Kevin Gandhi

AHC Surgery Team
Dr Vuthy and the AHC surgery team performing one of the dozens of of surgeries they complete every day.

Dr Gandhi began visiting AHC in 2008 after his colleague Dr Tom Hurt, an ER physician, mentioned that AHC was looking for a paediatric urologist to volunteer. Dr Gandhi gladly accepted the opportunity to volunteer abroad, something he had wanted to do ever since he began studying medicine. Since 2008, he has returned every year to volunteer. Unfortunately, he was unable to return in 2020 due to the global pandemic, instead connecting with the team online to provide training and feedback.

Education Classroom
A group of young AHC doctors attend a lecture taught by an international volunteer.

Volunteers are essential to the education offered and care provided at AHC. That is because medical education in paediatric subspecialties, like paediatric urology or paediatric nephrology, is not currently available in Cambodia and must be obtained internationally.

Volunteers come from all over the world, like Dr Ameryic Lim, Physician-in-Chief and Professor at Singapore’s National University Health System, who has been a driving force behind the development of AHC’s orthopaedic surgical procedures. AHC receives dozens of medical volunteers from academic institutions and paediatric hospitals such as Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Wisconsin Children’s Hospital, University of Massachusetts, John Radcliff Hospital, Oxford Children’s Hospital, Oregon Health & Sciences University, plus many more.

“The physicians in Cambodia have to do more with fewer resources than what we have in the US, often solving problems without a new tool or test to help. I try to bring this problem solving and ingenuity back home to improve my own practise. I don’t think a day passes where I don’t call on my experiences at AHC in my own practise.”

Dr Kevin Gandhi
Child Surgery
A child recovers after receiving surgery, performed by Dr Kevin Gandhi and the AHC surgery team.

In 2018, Dr Gandhi helped develop AHC’s laparoscopy programme, a procedure that uses a small camera to examine the organs inside the abdomen. He was able to source new laparoscopy equipment for AHC through his professional network, helping the hospital save costs and benefiting the patients who otherwise would struggle to find treatment for the highly specialised procedure.

“Next year I am hoping to fund a laparoscopy student to go anywhere in the world for training and bring someone back who can teach the AHC team the laparoscopy skills needed.” – Dr Kevin Gandhi

Dr Gandhi Portrait
Dr Kevin Gandhi during a visit to AHC in 2017.

Since the global pandemic began, international volunteers have been unable to visit AHC, instead providing expert feedback via video conferencing and online discussion. AHC is eager for volunteers like Dr Gandhi to return to our hospital so our staff can continue developing specialty services at AHC and improve the knowledge of healthcare professionals across the country.

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