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Operation Helping Hands (OHH), founded in 1999 by Drs. Michel Aboutanos, Tim Broderick, and Jay Yelon, is a humanitarian outreach network designed to bring medical and surgical relief to underserved areas around the world.

Surgical Mission Trips
OHH carries out short surgical mission trips (10 days) to remote areas of the Carribean, Central America, South America, and Africa.
View a slideshow of our 4th trip to Ecuador (July 2010).

Our surgical teams are composed of volunteer surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, OR technicians, medical students and local healthcare professionals and volunteers.

Types of operations performed include general surgery procedures as well as plastic, genitourinary, orthopedics, and OB-GYN. For example, laparoscopic gallbladder removal, hernia repairs, head and neck surgeries, and various cancer operations are typical operations performed. Specialty operations include skin grafts, scar excisions, burn wound care, hydrolectomies and hysterectomies.

map showing Dominican Republic

Dominican Republic:  The First OHH Mission

In March 2000, the first team of six physicians, four nurses, and one support staff, traveled to Hospital Dr. Leopoldo Pou in Samana, Domincan Republic. Equipped with surgical and medical supplies they set up makeshift operating rooms and worked with the local physicians and nurses to perform laparoscopic cholecystectomies, burn reconstructions and general surgical procedures on adults and children. By the close of the ten-day mission, the team had performed over 60 major operations and formed life-lasting relationships.

map showing EcuadorEcuador:  A Town Called Taisha

The first OHH mission to Ecuador was inspired by Drs. Michel and Sharline Aboutanos's visit to the country for an ongoing trauma system development project in the region. They visited the jungles of Ecuador where time seemed to have forgotten a small native Indian town called Taisha.

In Taisha, Dr. Aboutanos visited the School of the Angels, which provides education to 92 children, ages 7 to 14. They noticed that the children lacked for basic needs, including shoes, clothes, medicine, and school supplies. Their visit occurred during the Christmas season and the doctors asked if the children would be getting any toys that year. They were told, “No. What the children need is medicine!”

Upon returning to Virginia Commonwealth University a new OHH chapter in the VCU School of Medicine was created. The aim of the organization was to embolden medical students to become involved in international humanitarian missions. A decision was made that the first mission of the medical school chapter would be to bring medicine, school supplies, and toys to Taisha, Ecuador. Two second-year VCU medical students spearheaded the efforts. 

Various groups from the Richmond community and from the VCU Medical Center (VCUMC) participated in a large fund-raising campaign.  At VCUMC, the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit (STICU) sponsored the mission for their yearly outreach activity. More than 70 nurses participated in donating school supplies and toys to the children of Taisha. With the inspiration of Gregory Chenault, VCU Pharmacy  undertook the responsibility of collecting medicine for the children. The Division of Trauma in the Department of Surgery spearheaded various fundraising activities including a sailing trip in the Chesapeake Bay with Dr. Ajai Malhotra as captain. Contributions from the community included a generous donation from Mr. Emilie and Guy Townsend (a former STICU patient), the 5th grade Bellwood elementary school in Chesterfield, the Sunday School class of Beulah Baptist Church, the junior Girl Scout troops in the Atlee Service Unit, the regional CVS pharmacy, and the Anti-Infective Division of Pfizer, Inc.

The generosity of the hospital and the surrounding community was overwhelming. On March 11, 2006, Dr. Michel Aboutanos and a team of medical students traveled to the jungles of Ecuador carrying eight hefty duffel bags filled with toys, medicine, school supplies and much love. They distributed needed medicine to the hospital and small clinics in Taisha, and the toys and school supplies to the School of the Angels. The greatest gift, however, came from the children, who welcomed the VCU medical students with looks of disbelief and utter joy, as if the greatest celebration in the world was occurring in this small broken-down school in the center of the earth.

There was much laughter, joy, and dancing. The utter appreciation was evident. Some of the Indians thought that Dr. Aboutanos was a shaman, or spiritual medicine man, and wanted him to help some of their sick people. As always, the gifts carried down do not compare to the amazing love that is reciprocated. Above all there was a satisfaction that for that day, the VCU community and its sponsors made a difference.

From the OHH team, there was the deep knowledge that much more needs to be done, and the firm resolution to return again and share our greatest gifts: ourselves and the support of our sponsors.

OHH welcomes any efforts, collaboration or sponsorship to help bring a touch of love, compassion, and the hope of a bright future to school children in poor and developing areas of the world.

We are currently preparing for our 4th mission trip to Ecuador in July 2010!


helping hand graphic Virginia Commonwealth University | School of Medicine
Operation Helping Hands | Division of Trauma & Critical Care
1200 E. Broad Street | Richmond, VA 23298
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Date Last Modified: November 10, 2010
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