Eleven nurses are giving up two weeks of annual leave this month to help perform life-changing facial surgery in Ethiopia.
The nurses from Guy’s and St Thomas’ and Great Ormond Street Hospitals make up a group of 25 medics who will operate on 50 patients in just 13 days.
“Some of them have never had pain relief before”
From mid-June, the volunteers are flying from London to Addis Ababa, for charity Project Harar.
The team will operate on Ethiopians with the most complex facial disfigurements that stop them from eating, drinking, breathing and integrating into society. They will tackle conditions such as tumours, animal attack injuries, burns and gunshot wounds and noma – a facial gangrene.
After your first trip “you’re hooked,” said lead nurse Catherine Collins, who has been on three similar surgical missions.
“It’s completely enjoyable. It’s a lovely country,” she said, adding that the staff loved coming back and catching up with patients from previous years.
“A few times we’ve had the same patient come back a year later for further revision surgery which is lovely – they look incredible,” said Ms Collins.
She also highlighted the importance of the pre-op weeks in Ethiopia.
Volunteer nurses to do ops marathon in Ethiopia
“A lot of the pre-op period is about the social side – getting the patients used to us and us getting to know them. It’s important first off to learn all their names,” she said.
“They’ve from really far off rural areas and actually they’re really nervous about what to expect,” she said. “And because they’ve been socially isolated, to be suddenly surrounded by people who might have similar disfigurements is a surprise.
“For example, someone who has been hidden away in their village because they have a large tumour on their face might meet someone with a very similar condition so you’re also helping them to interact,” she said.
“A lot of it was kicking a football around. Teaching children how to count. Those are the really fun bits,” noted Ms Collins.
“Building trust pre-op is so important, because at some point we’ll be nursing them or giving them medical care that they won’t be used to,” she said. “We might be doing something uncomfortable physically and emotionally.
“Some of them have never had pain relief before, they’ve never had tablets let alone a wound that is painful to clean or anything,” said Ms Collins.
“We’re thrilled to be working towards our biggest year yet”
She added: “We also teach them to have really good hand hygiene so that if have a wound post-op they’re not touching it and getting it infected.”
The volunteers give up their own holiday time for the trip, referred to as the “complex mission”, but have to raise £1,000 to cover the costs of their flights, food and accommodation.
Project Harar also facilitates hundreds of relatively simple operations, such as cleft lip and palate, all year round in Ethiopia.
It has treated well over 5,000 patients since it began in 2001 and hopes to break its yearly record by treating one thousand patients by the end of 2016.
Victoria Clare, director of Project Harar, said: “We’re thrilled to be working towards our biggest year yet for the number of patients we’ll treat.
“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,” she added.