Scarborough surgeon crosses borders to help patients in the developing world

SCARBOROUGH: Plastic Surgeon Dr. Timothy Sproule, who works out of The Scarborough Hospital (TSH), has a passion for not only improving the lives of patients in his own backyard, but also patients in the developing world.


Recently, Dr. Sproule travelled to Nepal – where he has visited on numerous occasions – for eight days to impart his expertise in microsurgery and burn reconstruction as a co-chair at the Resurge International South Asian Plastic Surgery Conference.

“My interest in helping people in the developing world began in the early days of starting my practice,” says Dr. Sproule. “I started helping out by repairing cleft lips, but over the past couple of years, my focus has now changed because so many of the places I’ve gone to do cleft lip surgery better now, better than we do here in North America really, and so they don’t really need help with that anymore. Instead, they need help with some of the more complex surgeries that have become more routine here, but that they don’t do at all there; in particular, microsurgery and burn surgery.”

“I was asked by my friend, Dr. Shankar Man Rai, Nepal’s most senior plastic surgeon, to present at this unique conference. They don’t have a lot of international conferences in Nepal and it was great to have a conference to share ideas with international partners on how best to carry out these reconstructive procedures.”

Dr. Rai and his team, with the assistance of Dr. Sproule, are developing a specialized burn unit program in the country’s capital city of Kathmandu to treat the seemingly never-ending onslaught of burn victims.

“Burns are under-treated and abundant in the developing world,” says Dr. Sproule. “Here, burns are looked after pretty well. We will take someone with extensive burns right into the operating theatre to perform the reconstruction, right at the beginning of their injury. In the developing world, many people sit in their bandages or their burns rot off and it’s extremely painful. In addition, there is a high instance of burns there; more so than here. People in the developing world mostly use fire for cooking and heating, they have antiquated electrical systems, and they often deal with terrorist and domestic attacks. Burns can be a matter of life or death in places like Nepal.”

According to Dr. Sproule, although doctors in countries like Nepal are incredibly skilled at many types of reconstructive surgeries, they need more training in proper burn reconstruction procedures, and they need the sophisticated equipment to expertly conduct these types of surgeries.

Not only has Dr. Sproule shared his expertise about burn reconstruction to doctors in the new burn unit in Kathmandu, but on his recent trip, he donated a specialized piece of equipment to improve the level of care doctors can provide to their patients.

“Through my foundation, the Canadian Reconstructive Surgery Foundation, I have donated a specialized piece of equipment called a Dermatome. The Dermatome has a special blade that allows you to take off an absolute razor thin piece of skin, really precisely, so the site where it’s removed heals without scarring and the skin itself can be used for reconstruction. You can do this type of thing with more primitive types of instruments, but this is so much better. It really can help transform the work doctors in the developing world can do.”

Although Dr. Sproule wasn’t able to perform any burn reconstructive surgeries while in Nepal this trip, he was able to perform and assist with surgeries in the Kathmandu clinic and in a clinic in the neighbouring ancient city of Kirtipur.

Helping patients in the developing world who can’t afford or don’t have access to the services we have here  in Canada, gives Dr. Sproule a great satisfaction, and giving back somehow is something he says everyone should do at least once.

Through his charity, Dr. Sproule has gone on more than 30 trips to countries around the world including Guyana, Bangladesh and Bolivia. He says each trip really puts his problems into perspective.

“Every time I come back from a trip like my recent one in Nepal, I feel much better about the work I do,” he says. “I feel centred; and I highly encourage people to work overseas in any capacity. At The Scarborough Hospital, there are a lot of doctors and nurses that do great work – here and overseas. It’s why we got into health care; we want to help others. It’s a great feeling to give back and help out.”