WVU Global Health Outreach Reconstructs Victims of Domestic Abuse

One of the most insidious aspects of domestic violence is the way the abuse can linger. Domestic violence victims have to live with the consequences of their abuser’s acts for the rest of their lives. Sadly, these consequences often include physical scars and damage that don’t heal naturally.

Fortunately, some have stepped forward to help. With the firm belief that medical education and practice must extend beyond the confines of the local community,  West Virginia University’s Global Health Program (GPH) was created in 1991 to provide global health educational experiences to WVU students as well as faculty and staff—not only for the enhancement of the WVU medical education, but as a tangible effort to maintain a connection with the healthcare needs of developing nations and the world at large.

These efforts came to the rescue of Rashmi, a 31-year-old Sri Lankan woman who was subjected to domestic abuse by her husband. Ashamed of her story and burn scares, Rashmi has lived every day with the social stigma and limitations of her injuries. When she learned of a visiting American surgical team, she came from a neighboring village to the Tellipphani hospital in Jaffna province in Sri Lanka.

Rashmi's face and Neck burn scars

Rashmi met with Gregory Borah, M.D., WVU professor of plastic, reconstructive and hand surgery, who explained there was a treatment to improve her appearance and allow her to use her neck and hand again. Before surgery, Rashmi could not move her right hand without causing her face to be pulled downward. With the help of a multi-disciplinary group of surgical volunteers from WVU’s J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital and anesthesiologists from Columbia and Rutgers Universities, Rashmi’s form and function were restored.

Rashmi's hand burn scars

In a four-hour operation, Dr. Borah reconstructed her neck and arm to allow free movement of her head and regain use of her deformed right hand. In the short term, Rashmi will need occupational therapy and doubtlessly require further reconstruction, but she now has a future which is more functional and hopeful.

Another local woman, Hiruni, was similarly burned under suspicious circumstances. She survived the immediate, full-thickness burns to her chest and neck but the subsequent scar which reached from her lower lip to her sternum contracted severely. This meant that she could not raise her chin and so continuously looked downward.

In a three-hour operation, Borah along with his team were able to release the neck contracture and resurface her neck with skin grafts from her stomach. After skin graft healing, Hiruni can finally look straight ahead without distorting her posture in a testament to the impact plastic and reconstructive surgery has on self-confidence and self-esteem for a victim in desperate need of both.

Dr. Borah and his assisntant, fourth-year medical student Josh David

This surgical team of surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists and surgical technologists traveled half way around the globe to help treat injured and deformed people in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. During the mission trip in November 2017 the surgical team, sponsored by Smile Bangladesh, evaluated over 180 patients and was able to operate on 47 children and adults. The patients included the domestic abuse victims, as well as injured patients from the recently concluded civil war. The future for these warm-hearted and grateful patients is now a little brighter as a result of the Global Health expertise and the dedication of WVU Medicine personnel.