Doctor Kimit Rai has a legacy of smiles around the world.
The part time Whistler resident founded Operation Rainbow Canada in 1997 and has since led over 28 missions to eight countries around the world to provide reconstructive surgeries to underprivileged children.
More than that, when his team of plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists and support staff go overseas to places like Cambodia, India, China and the Philippines, to name a few, they also take the time to provide educational training to local medical personnel.
Rai said each mission provides a teaching opportunity to show nurses, surgeons and hospital administration not only how a team operates, but the organizational system required to efficiently treat 100 to 120 patients in the course of a week.
“The basic aim is to not only treat children who cannot afford to pay, but also educate local doctors, nurses and the public that you have underprivileged people who need help and cannot pay for medical services,” he said.
The focus of the plastic surgery is to treat children with cleft lips or other soft palette deformities, hand deformities and post burn contractures. It is also an opportunity to look for tuberculosis, meningitis, dehydration and malnutrition, said Rai.
He said there are also those who have had surgery that didn’t turn out well and the team will help those children as well. Girls are always treated first and once all the children have received care adults with medical needs are also seen.
The former president of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons typically takes a team of 20 on missions twice a year. That includes two plastic surgeons, two anesthesiologists, two surgical and two anesthesia residents, one pediatrician, one pediatric resident, four operating room nurses, one operating room coordinator, two recovery nurses a mission coordinator, local host, admin support and a reporter and photographer.
He noted the educational opportunities that Operation Rainbow offers also extends to surgical and pediatric residents.
Each mission costs $70,000 and lasts 12 to 14 days with up to eight days of surgery. Rai said in 15 years of operations over 2,000 cases have been performed, the equivalent of $2 million worth of surgery. He added Operation Rainbow Canada has low infection and complication rates and delivers surgery to children who otherwise would not be able to receive that kind of care.
“Right now we are in the process of raising more money to send teams to more countries,” he said, adding the next mission will be to Cambodia in February.
That trip, however, will be the last one that Rai leads the team. At the age of 65 and after close to twenty years, he said it is time for him to pass the reigns to another.
Rai said he will still be involved in the non-profit organization, but with the time requirement to lead two missions a year being high, he is ready for another to carry on.
This all started 21 years ago when Rai was invited with an American group that was doing the same work overseas on a mission to Guatemala.
He said he thought, “why don’t we have a Canadian team doing this?” Within a year he had a group put together to go to the Philippines.
“We registered that following year as a charity,” he said. “It has been growing ever since.
“I am hoping this continues on into the future — I am hoping to leave a legacy behind and it goes on to help people in the way it has been successful in previous years.”
Rai has been living in Whistler part time for 30 years, and will live here permanently once he semi-retires.