Michelle Duncan ’05 is struggling with her luggage at San Francisco International Airport. Forget about a carry-on—she has 60 bags—each stuffed with surgical equipment that will change lives.
Duncan is the associate director for Operation Rainbow, a Bay Area nonprofit that provides free orthopedic surgery to children and young adults in developing countries like Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Haiti.
Many patients will travel for days and line up for hours for a chance to see a volunteer surgeon; the treatment they receive for conditions like bilateral clubfeet and deformities caused by polio can be transformative.
“We had a four-year-old girl in Ecuador who was born with severe congenital deformities,” Duncan said. “She couldn’t walk or use her hands, and every year over four years we did surgeries on her. The last time we were there, we got to see her walk out of the hospital.”
Duncan organizes up to a dozen medical missions every year and builds the teams of volunteer surgeons who will perform as many as 60 surgeries during each week long trip. She is also the organization's fundraiser, with a goal of $1 million dollars a year.
Duncan is one of only two employees at Operation Rainbow and has been there for eight years. It’s a big job, but there's no big salary.
In fact, there's no salary at all. Duncan is a volunteer and supports herself working as a marketing consultant and yoga teacher.
Operation Rainbow has treated more than 12,000 children since it started 35 years ago. It is now training medical staff in the countries it visits to perform surgeries on their own.
For more information, visit www.operationrainbow.org.