Eleven London nurses are giving up their holidays to help perform life-changing facial surgery in Ethiopia.
They will spend a fortnight as part of a 25-strong medical team dispatched by the charity Project Harar to operate on 50 children and adults with major disfigurements.
The nurses, who work at Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS trust and Great Ormond Street hospital, will head to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa from next week [June 10].
Lead nurse Catherine Collins, 31, who has been on three surgical missions run by Project Harar, said: “It’s two weeks of pure adrenalin. You get very little sleep, it’s stressful, and you spend a lot of hours working. And you come back to London and everyone says: ‘How was your holiday?’”
The team, led by Professor Mark McGurk, maxillofacial surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, tackle conditions such as noma (a facial gangrene), huge tumours, animal attack injuries, burns and gunshot wounds.
The surgery changes and saves lives in a country where such conditions are regarded as “acts of God” and sufferers are ostracised. Children are able to return to school and finally make friends. Adults have found jobs and got married.
Project Harar, based in Highgate, has treated more than 5,000 patients since it launched in 2001. It hopes to set a new record by treating 1,000 patients this year. Patients will often return for further surgery.
Ms Collins, who works at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “A few times we’ve had the same patient come back a year later for further revision surgery which is lovely – they look incredible.”
Nurse Johanna Cade, 29, who is making her second trip, said: “We work closely with the Ethiopian nurses, teaching them things like tube feeding. It makes it sustainable so when we go, they can still carry on the good work. We’re not just going in, taking over and shooting off.”
One of her favourite moments was with a four year-old girl called Nado, who “showed no emotion” when they first met. “She couldn’t smile and she couldn’t cry,” Ms Cade said. “I just thought she must be in so much pain.
“I made it my absolute mission to make that girl smile by the end of the week. So I buddied up with her and played with her all the time. And just before we left I got her to smile. We had some balloons and bubbles. I’ll never forget it – it was the cutest little thing.”
Ethiopia has been blighted by drought, war and famine in recent years and has a life expectancy 20 years lower than in the UK.
Victoria Clare, director of Project Harar, said: “It’s wonderful to know that our great junior doctors, nurses and surgeons will be providing training to improve care in the hospitals once we leave. Without this vital training our work wouldn’t be able to go so far.”
Jonathan Crown, founder of the charity, said: “The transformation of these brave patients is profound. We know from our research that our patients are allowed back into school, to have friends and family and to have a life. Most of them are able to reintegrate into society.
“I have pictures now of people getting married – which they probably wouldn’t have been able to without the surgery. Going back and seeing them is fantastic.”
To donate to the mission, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/surgicalmission