It was just about noon on April 25, 2015, when the earth split open in Nepal.
A 7.8 magnitude earthquake erupted from a stressed fault line five miles below the surface and shook the South Asian nation for 50 seconds. In that time, the densely packed capital of Kathmandu crumbled into itself. Country villages set against mountainsides sunk into nothingness instantly and wordlessly – each one a small Atlantis. The human tolls were staggering: nearly 9,000 dead, 22,000 injured and 3.5 million left homeless.
Eight thousand miles away, Dr. Pravin Dugel was asleep in his Phoenix home. When he woke up the next morning, a Saturday, the texts came like aftershocks, every few minutes. Did he see the news? Is his family OK? What happened? It wasn’t until he turned the television on to CNN that he faced the sobering facts. And then he realized what he had to do.
“I’m going,” the board-certified ophthalmologist recalls thinking to himself.
The next few days were a blur of travel and preparation as Dugel assembled a trauma team that would make the pilgrimage to what remained of Kathmandu. It was not his first time in the city, located 100 miles southwest of Mount Everest in the foothills of the Himalayas. Dugel was born in Nepal and lived there before fleeing to London with his family when he was 4. Later, the refugee family moved to America.
Even before his wheels touched down in Nepal in 2015, Dugel couldn’t take his eyes off the C-130 relief planes swarming the Tribhuvan International Airport like honeybees. It was the first of many visions from the trip he would not be able to forget.
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