Abigail Klein Leichman
July 17, 2023

A humanitarian delegation of physicians from Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa was performing lifesaving surgery on a three-year-old girl in Addis Ababa when suddenly the electric ventilator stopped working and the lights went out.

Unfazed, the surgeons spent the next 15 minutes continuing the procedure using light from Dr. Yotam Shkedy’s battery-operated surgical headlight and their cell phones.

Meanwhile, Dr. Vasile Recea assisted the Ethiopian anesthetists in manually pumping air into the little girl’s nose until the hospital’s backup generator started functioning.

“Power outages are a part of life in these countries,” said Shkedy, director of Rambam’s otorhinolaryngology-head and neck surgery unit and head of the medical delegation, “but usually there is a backup generator that automatically turns on. That did not happen in this case. We had to adapt quickly because our young patient was lying on the operating table and we were in the middle of the procedure.”

The surgery continued to a successful completion. “Happily, our patient’s life was never in danger, despite the power outage,” Shkedy said.

The collaboration between Rambam and St. Peter’s Hospital in Addis Ababa grew out of Shkedy’s visit last year to the African hospital for humanitarian activities in the field of head and neck surgery. A team from St. Peter’s visited Rambam about three months ago.

At the beginning of July, Rambam sent another delegation of volunteers to the hospital to offer expanded services, including head and neck surgery and gynecological treatments.

In addition to Shkedy and Recea, the volunteers included Dr. Nir Haya, director of the gynecology unit at Rambam, and nurse Avivit Nitka. They treated dozens of local patients and performed about a dozen surgeries.

“We love our profession, but getting out of the daily routine into a different reality, one that often requires thinking outside the box or performing surgery under the light of a surgical headlight, gives us proportion and a lot of satisfaction,” Shkedy said.

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