Cheryl Satgunam

Improvise, that’s the word. You have to adapt. We need people who can do that. We follow standards of course, but we have to work with what is available in Guatemala. You have to think on your feet. Even with the basic stuff like draping, you might be running out of supplies by the end of the third week. So, just figure it out. Let’s just cut a hole here and use it.”

“Do you find that exciting?”

“Oh, I do, I do, I love it!” (*laughs)
No,… I’m just… I’m loving it because… I’m an immigrant, right, and I’ve been here in this country for the last twenty five years and… I’ve been blessed. I worked hard to get to where I am, but I’ve been blessed and now I want to give back. So that’s how I decided to do this. Two weeks, every November. This will be my seventh year. That’s how I’m giving back. Because you don’t expect anything in return, it’s all here in your heart.” (*taps her chest)

“I mean, it’s amazing what you’ve been given. And so many over there have nothing. And then you go and help and people are so grateful.”


“Has John been going for as long as you have?”


“Uhm, no, he started I think in… I think this is his third year. I told him ‘Why don’t you come and see, try it out?’, and he said ‘if they can use me, I’ll come.’

“So I asked Joe about John joining us and he said ‘Sure, what can he do?’, and I said ‘anything.’”


“Where are you originally from, by the way? How did you and John meet?”

“We are both from Sri Lanka. John is from Kandy, I’m from Columbo. We went to the same church.”

“Back in Sri Lanka?”

“Yeah, there. Back there. That’s where we met. And then, he came to Canada first. And then about five years later he sponsored me. We were good friends. But then the friendship became more once he left.”

“Once he left?”

(*laughs) “Yeah, once he left. It’s funny, usually it’s not like that.”

“That must have been hard.”

“It… well, we were friends so it wasn’t a huge deal at that time. But then we kept in touch for the next five years of our lives, and one day he said ‘I’m writing to you constantly, I’m calling you constantly. The phone bills are like a thousand dollars a month… you should come. Let’s just get married.’

And we’ve been married ever since, for twenty five years now.

“You know, he was a refugee. In our country. He’s gone through hell, like, he lost everything in the civil war. That’s why he left. And that’s why he values coming to this country. I think he has way more appreciation for freedom because I was… I’m… we are two different nationalities. He’s Tamil, I’m Sinhalese. So I wasn’t the one who was oppressed. Tamil were the oppressed ones. The war was between the two nationalities. Somebody wants power, right? It’s about power, and greed,… money… all those things…

“Oh, hey, look at these backpacks, we got 21 of them. Let me show you a picture.”

“Backpacks for the school kids?”

“Yes, every year we have a charity golf tournament at Royal Columbian Hospital. This year, Dr. Mohamedali from Royal Columbian Hospital called me and said they had these brand new backpacks left over from their charity golf tournament. He asked ‘Could you use them’? And I said ‘Can I ever use them!’

“And John collects things like crayons and crayola. He goes and buys it and gives it to the kids. Books, colouring books, stickers. Last year when we went to Ricardo’s coffee plantation (in Antigua) for the day, John brought stuff for the kids. We just pay extra for another suitcase and fill it with stuff like this. Some of it is what I collected over the year, like The New West Surgical Centre does the reprocessing of some of the things we need, like the cautery tips for the cleft lip and palates. Because we reuse them over there. They use it in the hospital one time, I collect all of them and the girls in the centre process them for me. And I have a bunch of different things that I take… so I bring all of that. Anything that we can take with us, right?”

Cheryl Satgunam, Photo by: Badzak Creative

Cheryl is one of the specialty nurse leaders in the OR at Royal Columbian Hospital. She provides expert advice on the supplies needs of the H4H surgical team, and actively recruits highly motivated and competent nurses from her peers at RCH. Cheryl is also responsible for the day-to-day deployment of the OR nurses to fill the many functions required to run an efficient OR suite of 5 rooms per day. She leads by example and the OR staff respond with admiration and an excellent work ethic is the result.


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