Eight days to perform 155 surgeries? Two Rambam doctors and their colleagues traveled to Ghana and took on this near impossible task as part of a humanitarian mission to treat people with cleft lip and palate.
An inspiring humanitarian mission organized by 'Operation Smile,' an international medical charity, arrived in Ghana, Africa recently to treat hundreds of local children and adults with cleft lip and pallet. There were volunteers from 12 countries, including two doctors from Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel: Dr. Omri Amoudi, a senior physician in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, and Dr. Zach Sharoni, a senior physician in the Department of Plastic Surgery.
The two Rambam doctors have a long tradition of participating in missions in Vietnam, Ethiopia, the Philippines and other countries, treating dozens of patients wherever they go. All this has been done through Operation Smile, a 30-year-old NGO active in developing countries, with the aim of providing safe surgeries to third world populations where congenital malformations, such as cleft lip and palate, are common.
About 60 members of the delegation worked for ten days in Ghana, with most of the activity concentrated the local hospital of Ho. The team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, X-ray technicians, nursing staff, and speech therapists came from around the world: Brazil, Sweden, USA, South Africa, Spain, Ghana, Kenya, Egypt, China, Canada, Ireland and Israel. During the first two days, the Israeli doctors and other team members met with 235 patients, mostly children, who had requested medical treatment from the foreign experts. Of the hundreds of applicants who arrived from near and far, 155 people ranging from a few months in age to their twenties were selected—those the doctors felt would be best in the brief time before them—just eight days.
Working nonstop in seven makeshift surgical suites, the team members performed one surgery after another on dozens of patients; each procedure presented its own challenges. The complex task was successful thanks to the extensive accumulated experience gained during the organization's years of operation, and the medical equipment they brought to Africa to facilitate the surgeries.
"This is the eighth time I’ve taken part in the organization's activities abroad," says Dr. Zach Sharoni. "However, every time I am surprised and amazed anew. We operate there under circumstances far removed from our day-to-day work, because we are working against the clock to help as many local patients as possible. When we see the reactions of children and parents after recovery and in the days following surgery, it makes it all worthwhile. Their smiles are the best thank you a doctor can have."
Operation Smile’s 30-years of experience has helped them establish procedures to facilitate treating as many patients as possible with in a very short time. The simpler cleft lip cases are treated first, followed by cleft palate and other defects. "You have to understand that when you get there, the dynamics are different," says Dr. Omri Amudi. "You work with people you don’t know who come from another culture. But once you get into the rhythm, everyone becomes one effective team, motivated by the desire to help these people. Unfortunately, we do not have time to treat everyone. However, many cases are referred to an upcoming treatment program for the next group of volunteers. This is an unforgettable experience. If we're lucky, we'll come back again."