October 4, 1997 in City

Doctors Bring Ray Of Hope To Ethiopians Local Caregivers Join Healing The Children In Mission Of Mercy To Third World Country

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The ailing children and their families will wait at an Ethiopian hospital next week for a team of 24 Spokane health care workers.

Only a few will be picked, and the others could die.

Some of the children will have walked hundreds of miles over rough terrain and difficult roads. Their families will sleep on mattresses in hospital hallways or camp and cook meals outside.

About 20 will receive life-saving heart operations, free of charge.

The Spokane workers, most of whom flew out of Spokane on Friday, are the only people performing heart surgeries on children in all of Ethiopia, where thousands of children suffer congenital heart defects or other heart problems.

“It’s a country of 55 million with absolutely no hope,” said Dr. Welzie Allen, a Spokane pediatric cardiologist. “I just don’t think that’s the way the world should live.”

This is the fourth time since 1993 that Healing the Children has sent Spokane health care workers to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to work small miracles.

On Monday, the workers will unpack some of the 4,000 pounds of supplies. They will put together operating and recovery rooms that look like those in Spokane.

“There’s nothing in that country,” Allen said. “They have nothing. If we need a Q-Tip, we have to take it. If we need a Band-Aid, we have to take it. The hospitals are bare.”

The Spokane doctors, nurses, technicians, assistants and a respiratory therapist aim to perform the work in five days.

Dr. Belay Abegaz, an Ethiopian, has already screened 26 children. Others will probably be waiting.

“It’s very difficult when the schedule is full and you know you could stay there three years, operating five days a week, and still not clear up the backlog,” Allen said.

The group’s mission to Ethiopia is unlike medical trips that parachute into Third World countries, never to return.

The Spokane health care workers have returned to the same hospital each year. They performed the first open-heart surgeries in the country. They train Ethiopian doctors and nurses in Western techniques and treatments.

The Spokane workers also send medicine and supplies during the year.

“We’re lucky,” said Dr. Eric Johnson, the anesthesiologist on the team. “So many people tell me they wish they could do this, but they’re in the wrong profession. This is pure helping out.”

Those who have been helped treat the returning doctors and nurses like celebrities. The children and their families come hundreds of miles and show the Spokane team 4 inches of growth or pink lips instead of blue.

Many bring gifts, such as cards, trinkets and jewelry. Doctors have been given hand-painted portraits on goat skin. The team was given a map of Ethiopia.

“I think most of the people who go feel they get much more from the experience of going than we give to them,” said nurse Barbara Heimbigner, who’s been on every Ethiopia trip. “When you can make that difference, it’s worth it.”

The cost of the trip - at least $60,000 this year, raised by everything from a quilt raffle to shirt sales - is less expensive and much more efficient than flying the children to Spokane for surgery, volunteers say.

“This is a real community effort,” Johnson said. “We have so much help from so many people. We’re the lucky ones who get to go and hold the kids.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MEDICAL HELP The medical team from Spokane will: Perform about 20 heart surgeries, free. Deliver 4,000 pounds of medical supplies. Set up operating and recovery rooms. Train Ethiopian doctors in Western heart surgery techniques.

This sidebar appeared with the story: MEDICAL HELP The medical team from Spokane will: Perform about 20 heart surgeries, free. Deliver 4,000 pounds of medical supplies. Set up operating and recovery rooms. Train Ethiopian doctors in Western heart surgery techniques.


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