Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and dr. Pataki in 2018 with the craniopagus siamese twins – Dr. Pataki explains the details of the planned plastic surgical operations to the Bangladeshi decisionmakers
Dr Gergely Pataki is a general and plastic and reconstructive surgeon, burn specialist, medical economist and manager. He is the founder of Action for the Defenceless People Foundation (2002), and since 2018, he has been acting as the Honorary Consul of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in Hungary.
Dr Pataki has also been one of the founders and, since December 2019, vice-president of the Council of the Central European Consular Corps. He is a member of several professional associations worldwide and holds several prestigious honours, awards and recognitions.
Dr Gergely Pataki, Medical Doctor
Honorary Consul of Bangladesh, Vice-President of the Council of the Central European Consular Corps
If we read his life story, it immediately becomes clear that he has been deeply committed to professional medical care and improved the life quality of many defenceless people and the poor since the beginning of his career. Since 2010, he has been continuously organising medical camps in Bangladesh. He and his team perform free reconstructive surgeries on burn and trauma victims and children born with disfiguring congenital disorders.
What was the inspiring force that steered you in the direction of humanitarian medical missions?
I believe that charity activities are inseparable parts of medicine, as it is a natural part of our profession that we do with our whole heart. There are many doctors in our family, so it was evident that we need to help people in need.
In 1997, during my surgical practice in Brazil, I decided that I would do the same in Hungary and less developed countries as a future plastic surgeon, but the exact location was not yet defined. The establishment of the Action for the Defenceless People Foundation in 2002 was also triggered by the fact that I was deeply touched by seeing many patients’ vulnerability as a young doctor. I was also motivated by Mother Teresa’s sentences about selflessness: “Love in action is service”. Having taken my professional examination from plastic surgery and burns, it became clear to me that the knowledge I had gained must be used for the benefit of people to improve the quality of their lives.
My other inspiring force was Dr Elisabeth Fessl de Alemany, the head of the Osteuropa-Hilfe Foundation. I met Ms Alemany 24 years ago in Bottrop, Germany, where I spent my surgical practice at the time and where later I also worked. I was impressed by her commitment to Hungarians across the border. Erzsébet is now almost 86 years old, but she still enjoys loading trucks with aid items and sending them mainly to Hungarian-inhabited areas across the border.
Dr Pataki with local children in the countryside of Bangladesh
The charity work in Bangladesh helps to establish a kind of balance between the Eastern and Western approaches. Many plastic surgeons get engaged in charity missions abroad to create a balance in their daily lives. Suppose you have to work cost-effectively from dusk to dawn. In that case, you need a few days or weeks a year (during your vacation) when you can also work where humanity is the primary consideration instead of money-centeredness. We must admit that economic principles dominate everyday life in Europe, contrary to some medical principles.
During missions abroad, however, the work is done according to different principles. We help all patients, regardless of their financial situation. Utilitarianism, which is a crucial factor in our work in private practice, does play any role in this type of socially motivated medicine. On a mission like that, one of the most important things we learn is team spirit. We work together for one goal in an international and intercultural environment regardless of our nationality. In these missions, we create medical, interprofessional, intercultural and interreligious cooperation. It is a beautiful thing to experience this over and over again. We find joy in these priceless encounters without material preconditions. We can see how happy patients can be despite their grinding poverty because you can still be satisfied. Being in Africa or Asia makes us stop thinking for a second about how great our healthcare system is. You can help much more people, and many more lives can be saved from a certain amount of money in Bangladesh. And my commitment to the country came from the fact that when we were first there on an assessment mission, I fell in love with this peaceful country, and I knew right away that I would come back here regularly to help.
Bangladeshi and Hungarian Medical team meets Honorable Prime Minister after the Separation of the Siamese Twins
Enormous attention has been paid throughout the world to the head conjoint Bangladeshi Siamese twins’ somewhat risky separation surgery. Why did an organisation, why did your foundation get this assignment?
Our team was asked to do surgery on the siamese twins conjoint by their heads, because we had already performed more than five hundred successful plastic-reconstructive surgeries in Bangladesh, so the trust of the colleagues in us to perform such rare surgery was present. Among the 500 surgeries, there were also complex, life-saving procedures.
It is essential to highlight that in the case of these Siamese twin girls, it was not and is not one single surgery. Still, a series of surgeries, the “steps” of which represent a vast professional challenge and responsibility in themselves, and their success may be a medical breakthrough. The Hungarian medical team of the Action for the Defenceless People Foundation was asked in 2017 to separate the then one-and-a-half-year-old Rabeya and Rukaya after 15 years of public medical and health quality improvement activities in Hungary and seven years of missionary work in Bangladesh. The series of medical procedures, dubbed “Operation Freedom”, aiming to separate the Siamese twins conjoined at their head, could be realised by the close collaboration of several medical professions, including neurosurgery, plastic surgery, anaesthesiology and intensive care. The steps in the series of surgeries are of individual scientific significance in themselves: which may pave the way for new treatment options in several medical and professional fields. Last August, we – the physicians of the foundation together with the Bangladeshi doctors – published a scientific article in a leading international surgical journal. Several renowned medical professors praised the surgical series’ technical innovations which was a great recognition for us.
Who does the Action for the Defenceless People Foundation primarily help?
Our activity field includes the protection and assistance of persons who can do little or nothing to protect themselves and advance their interests due to their health conditions or economic situation. To this end, we perform free surgeries both at home and abroad. In the institutions, we coordinate professional consultations related to treatments, organise education, and assist in the procurement of medical instruments, unique hospital furniture, and rehabilitation equipment. Our foundation’s activities are primarily based on our leaders’ and teams’ voluntary commitment and enthusiastic work. Our volunteer work helps society’s moral improvement and allows our volunteers an opportunity for essential skills.
Dr Pataki visiting a school in southern Bangladesh
The essence of “ACTION” is that we try to help as much as we can actively and directly, here and now, at home and abroad. We travel to areas suffering from the most extraordinary medical shortages and poverty in foreign missions to perform special surgeries. Children’s congenital malformations and injuries must be treated as quickly as possible because they are in constant development, and their learned behaviour is adapted to their physical abilities. “DEFENCELESS” means that the most significant shortage need must be remedied first. Those who are in the most trouble and have the slightest chance of recovery need help first. Health needs are endless, and there is always room for improvement in the quality of life especially of the defenceless. Our foundation targets this infinity slice where the most significant gain can be achieved from a small amount of money. The result is that the money is best utilised. The missions established and volunteering surgical camps organised in Bangladesh serve this purpose. The Action for the Defenceless People Foundation has been organising domestic and foreign volunteering missions for 19 years, trying to set an example. Our help is like a “drop in a bucket”. We can’t change the world but – if we consider the treated patients and their relatives – for thousands of people the world did change thanks to the foundation’s work in recent years.
Dr Pataki with Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
and Director General of the Directorate General Medical Services, Major General Foshiul Rahman
Did you receive the request to perform honorary consular duties because of your nearly a decade of ongoing work in Bangladesh?
It must have been partly the reason. I hadn’t thought of taking such a role before, but I couldn’t refuse the multiple kind requests anymore. At first, people in Bangladesh were surprised by the intensity and seriousness of our missions, and the number of surgeries we performed in a fortnight (for example, in 2015, it was more than 150) and also by the fact that my team and I returned year after year just to be able to help. As a result, fantastic and fruitful human and professional relationships have emerged.
The cooperation with Bangladeshi colleagues is not only of medical or medical diplomatic significance but is also about cultural bonding and religious dialogue. In one of the most populated Muslim countries globally, to complete missions in cooperation and unique harmony, it was necessary to accept and respect each other’s cultures and religions. This natural courtesy, on my part, was probably another reason for the honour. The series of surgeries for the Siamese twins organised in the Hungarian–Bangladeshi cooperation also goes beyond the fact that we wanted to give them a better quality of life and that we wanted to take science forward.
What are the synergistic effects of your several significant activities?
For me, charity work is not only professional but also human fulfilment. The aim of plastic surgery is always to create or restore the harmony of the body and soul. Therefore, I think it is impossible to separate the reconstructive and the so-called aesthetic interventions. I cannot tell a single example where the result of “reconstruction” would not be more aesthetic at the same time or that the beautification goal would not entail a kind of severe “recovery”, which would almost be impossible by other means. In our missions in Bangladesh, our patients’ lives or ability to work are often at stake. Furthermore, the colleagues’ ongoing education has a kind of multiplier effect: it is crucial not only to “give them fish” but also “teach them to fish”, so they can themselves treat more patients with a burn or congenital disorder locally. Honorary consular activity is also a kind of continuous service where we can help many people in the long run by nurturing the relationship between the two countries.
Together with Bangladeshi Colleagues in Dhaka
What gives you the strength to do so many tasks?
I often say that it is a great pleasure for me to have a toddler with hands restored after burns smile at me and when a lady who has undergone aesthetic surgery comes to the follow-up with confidence, not ashamed of herself, with a happy and harmonious aura. Besides my accepting family background, it is the positive feedback from patients which provides the most strength to continue. In our missions, we are active in every branch of plastic surgery. We introduced several novelties and techniques in our missions, already adopted in the world’s western part. We introduced several novelties and techniques in our missions, already adopted in the world’s western region. We made sure that the surgeons in Bangladesh would learn these from us to later perform some surgeries on their own. These beautiful challenges are constantly inspiring me.
Together with other members of the Presidium of the Council of the Central European Consular Corps in Budapest
– Ádám Bölcs, Vice-President (left) and Erik Molnár, President (right)
As the Vice-President of the Council of the Central European Consular Corps, what can you say about the organisation’s aims and what determining future vision would you like?
Many things have been overwritten by the current epidemic in the world: plans, goals, ideas. Of course, the long-term vision has not changed: we want the most fruitful cooperation between our countries and Central European countries. We must keep in mind that none of our countries is in an easy situation now. The new type of coronavirus places such a burden on us that we need to help each other more than ever before in an environment with fewer networking opportunities. Nevertheless, I am optimistic, and I believe that helping intent and humanity will help us through all difficulties.