Riverhead pulmonologist Dr. Rajesh Patel speaks about his medical mission trips with Operation International during Wednesday's Riverhead Rotary Club meeting. Photo: Gianna Volpe

After nearly a quarter-century of performing surgeries on those in need around the world, Dr. Rajesh Patel shows no signs of slowing down and neither does the philanthropic organization responsible for the medical missions he has helped lead since 1999.

“Operation International is growing,” Riverhead pulmonologist and Operation International board member told the Riverhead Rotary club during a presentation about the volunteer group formerly known as International Surgical Mission Support.

“We now have nine operational teams. Mine is the original team from New York — my brother runs the dental team and our newest team is entirely dedicated to the head and neck,” Patel said, speaking to the Rotary club Wednesday afternoon in the Hyatt Place Sea Star Ballroom.

Riverhead pulmonologist Dr. Rajesh Patel gives a presentation about his medical mission trips with Operation International during Wednesday’s Riverhead Rotary Club meeting. Photo: Gianna Volpe

That new team will have their hands full in upcoming missions as removing thyroid goiters — and repairing cleft lip and/or palates — are common among Operation International’s surgical procedures, along with teaching surgical teams overseas less-invasive laparoscopic methods, and employing anesthesia to eliminate procedural pain.

“It’s very selective what the doctors can do,” said Riverhead Rotarian and member of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Kurt Van de Wetering, who has volunteered on two missions thus far. “You take someone who’s got an ailment — big goiters, thyroid issues, hernias — that puts an able-bodied person out of work…That’s one of the key things you’re assessing with a patient you want to help: how do you get someone who was once able-bodied and is now a burden back to being an active participant (in society)?”

Van de Wetering’s father Jack, who has also volunteered on a number of missions with Patel, was credited by Patel at the meeting for his part in making Operation International a beneficiary of the Rotary club’s Garden Festival, an annual Mother’s Day weekend plant sale that takes place at a Tanger Outlets parking lot. Plans are already in place for this year’s benefit, which starts May 9.

Funds have already been raised for the New York team’s upcoming Operation International mission. The team is heading to the landlocked South Asian country Bhutan March 9-22. Hundreds of potential patients are already awaiting the arrival of not only Operation International’s medical teams, but the plethora of medical equipment and supplies those teams will bring with them and leave behind.

“Our warehouse is already packed with cardiac monitors, anesthesia machines — especially laparoscopic towers — and all the new supplies, especially sponges and the instrument trays, which are very heavy and expensive,” Patel said.

“We are going to be taking all of this. Some stuff that we cannot take from here we’ll have to buy locally. Some medications that are not available in Bhutan and too heavy to carry from here, we’ve arranged…to ship a whole box of medications to a Rotarian friend in (India) and he’s going to meet us at the airport.”

Next month will mark the 23rd time Patel heads out to another country to save lives, while donating both medical equipment and know-how that will benefit local residents long after the Operation International team leaves.

MORE COVERAGE: Surgeons without borders help the poor around the world with support from the local community

Learn more about Operation International here.

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