If you get an out-of-office message for Kulvinder “Vinni” Bajwa, M.D., there is a good chance he is out of the country on a military deployment in some faraway land.
Bajwa, an assistant professor of surgery, is also a colonel in the United States Army Reserve, with past deployments including stints with combat support hospitals and forward surgical teams in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’ve always wanted to be a physician, and I’ve always wanted to serve my country,” said Bajwa, who provides care to patients as an assistant professor of surgery and at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “The Army Reserve allows me to do both.”
Bajwa, whose father Jasbir Bajwa served in the Indian Navy, is just back from a 90-day deployment at the Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, where he participated in joint medical readiness exercises and missions with other branches of the military.
The mission went beyond providing emergency surgery coverage on base and included fielding requests for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response anywhere south of the United States.
Bajwa and his mobile surgical team treated underserved residents in four Honduran cities – La Paz; Tegucigalpa; San Pedro Sula; and San Marcos, which is close to the border of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Some of the patients, Bajwa said, had been waiting for surgical care for more than a year or faced multi-day trips to one of the larger cities just to get an appointment for a later date. The surgical services were offered through a collaboration with the Honduran Ministry of Health.
“I operated on more than a 100 people in just three months,” Bajwa said.
One patient was a 12-year-old girl who had been given an ileostomy during emergency surgery to bypass an intestinal blockage and now needed the procedure reversed. “She felt much better and had plans to return to school,” said Bajwa, who earned his medical degree from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Bajwa also demonstrated advanced laparoscopic techniques to doctors in Honduras.
Multiple deployments can be difficult, Bajwa said. “It takes a team back home to be able to leave my surgical practice here for months at a time. I am thankful for the support of my family and my colleagues at MIST,” Bajwa said.
Sheilendra Mehta, M.D., assistant professor of surgery, cares for Bajwa’s patients while he is away.
Mehta described Bajwa’s military and medical experience as complementary. “Medicine helps with his service in the military and the Army helps with his medicine,” Mehta said. “Dr. Bajwa has a lot of leadership qualities.”
On the home front, Bajwa is supported by his wife Nomita and their two daughters.