David Gateley: Doctor Without Borders
Leading surgeon and Wimbledon resident David Gateley tackled the oceans to draw attention to charities close to his heart
Surgeon David Gateley’s charity work starts long before his 2019 attempt to tackle one of the world’s most gruelling sailing races. While he spent almost two decades at Tooting’s St George’s Hospital, specialising in plastics and reconstructive surgery, his work is far from confined to the UK and the NHS. During his career, the Wimbledon resident has also travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Nepal to teach surgeons and perform surgeries in areas where people have little or no access to specialist surgery.
David’s ethos proves as inspiring as it is crucial to the patients he helps. He says one of the things that drew him to the specialty of reconstructive surgery was the effect it can have on a patient’s confidence, self esteem and standard of living.
His first volunteering trip was to Tehran early on during his training programme at Roehampton. “It was part of a government initiative with the Amar Foundation where we treated the Marsh Arabs, who had been injured by Saddam Hussein during the conflict. We were there to help with their disfigurement and injuries,” explains David.
The surgeon’s charitable work continued with trips to Sierra Leone, where he mainly operated on children who had been badly burnt. However, David realised that though surgery could help there was little aftercare in place to look after his patients once he had returned to the UK.
“I knew I needed to be working in an established plastic surgery unit and that’s when I discovered the unit in Nepal – a cleft palate and burns unit which had trainees who were keen to learn and we could train.”
David began working with the unit and Child Action Nepal (CAN), which supports an orphanage near Kathmandu. One of his first surgeries was helping an orphan called Kalpana, who had been badly burned when she was seven years old.
“I first met Kalpana when she was 14 or 15. She had lost both of her parents in a fire and had been very badly burnt herself. She had a particularly bad burn to her chest so we brought her to the UK, to St George’s where we operated on her. Last year she got married and I think she’s just had a baby.”
David’s ties with CAN and the orphanage deepened and he is now a director of the orphanage. He travels to Nepal almost every year to advise on children with medical difficulties, operates at a hospital near Kathmandu and assists in training the local surgeons.
As part of his charity efforts and to fulfil a lifelong ambition as a keen sailor, last autumn David also participated in the Clipper Round the World yacht race to help raise funds for CAN and UNICEF.
David embarked on the arduous Atlantic leg, from London to Punta del Este in Uruguay, equating to more than 7,000 miles. “It was an extraordinary experience that no training could prepare you for. We got hit with gale force winds in the Bay of Biscay, pirates off the west coast of Africa visited us on two successive nights looking at our boats, we saw whales and dolphins and all manner of migratory birds, we swam at the equator in water that was five kilometres deep. It was just incredible, but also very tough. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to hit land again.”
David’s skills were in need even at sea during the gruelling Clipper challenge. “You really are out there on your own at many points. During my leg, I had a crew member in heart failure. I could speak to the medical support team on the radio of course but I had to treat him out on the ocean. It really is a case of all hands on deck.”
To date, David has impacted countless lives and his charitable work shows no signs of abating. His JustGiving sites are still open for donations following his latest fundraising and he is making plans to visit the Nepal orphanage in 2021.