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Profile: 1000 hernias repaired in Mongolia

M. Enkhtuvshin (Enkhee) Former in-country Director, Dr. W. C. Swanson Family Foundation

I was born in a small province in northern Mongolia. My parents left me in the care of my grandparents while they went to Russia to further their education in the 1960s. I was raised, loved and spoiled by my grandparents while having no one to play with me except little lambs and goats. As I grew up, I enjoyed learning the Russian language at school in that small province. At that time, we had extremely restricted information about the rest of the world.

 After graduating high school, I went to study the Russian language further and ultimately became a Russian language teacher. I loved my students and I enjoyed teaching. In the 1990s when the socialist/communist system collapsed in my country, the enormous change in politics and economy of the country was reflected in each Mongolian’s life – everyone had to re-build their lives.

At that time many Russian language teachers who had lost their jobs had an opportunity to learn English; that opened a door for me to meet wonderful people from the United States. I am very grateful to my dear friends Gary and Joyce Cox and Harlan and Mary Alice Clark, who came to Mongolia for charitable work at that time, introduced me to my friends Chuck and Tami Swanson. The Swansons ran a private family foundation – the Dr. W. C. Swanson Family Foundation in Ogden, Utah, USA. They became interested in the plight of the Mongolian people, especially in the lack of medical care given and received. We developed a relationship and they asked me to represent their foundation in Mongolia as the in-country Director. 

Over the next 14 years, the Swanson Family Foundation (SFF) sent huge numbers of medical supplies and equipment to Mongolia. The donations reached so many hospitals, starting with the biggest clinical hospitals in the capital city, and ending with smallest province medical units in the rural areas of the country. This was a great support to the medical community in Mongolia during that difficult transitional period from planned economy to the actual market economy period. Countless numbers of people came to our hospitals for medical care. These were people who never met the Swansons and had no idea of the work being done behind the scenes. 

Another big part of our Foundation’s activity was that Chuck Swanson initiated and organized trainings in laparoscopic surgery by bringing surgical teams with brilliant doctors to my country. As I remember what one of the leading experts in surgery of Mongolia said, “The donations and trainings provided by SFF volunteers truly upgraded the entire surgical care in Mongolia.” I felt very proud to be a part of it.

While I was representing the SFF in my country, I was also fortunate to meet with Professor Andrew Kingsnorth, the Founder and the President of Hernia International (HI) in the UK. It has been more than 10 years since HI started sending its international teams to Mongolia. The surgeons from the Second General Hospital, led by Professor Ts. Narmandakh and Drs. N.Altanchimeg, U.Sanchin, and B.Onon, together with the HI Teams, have organized valuable workshops for all these years. For this period of time, thanks to Professor Kingsnorth’s support, international surgeons have repaired more than 1000 various hernias. These surgeries have been beneficial for both young surgeons and patients alike living in rural areas.

While helping the teams with logistics, I have had the opportunity to assist them with interpretation of documents and translation between doctors and patients. I remember a herdsman who said he had lived with a hernia for 17 years! So, each time as we drove back from the countryside hospitals, I always felt excited about having helped those people in rural areas, as if I did those surgeries with my own hands. I do not have a medical background; I am a teacher. But I have a passion for my work. I can credit this trait to my grandparents’ example of caring about other people.      

I am so grateful to my dear friends from SFF, Chuck and Tami Swanson, and Cindy Purcell. My gratitude also extends to dear Professor Andrew Kingsnorth. I am indebted to all of them for valuing my small, but sincere, efforts in improving peoples’ lives in my Mongolia.