Kelowna Physicians Aid Burn Victims in Ethiopia

Several local physicians and volunteers recently returned from a medical tour in Ethiopia, and considering their phenomenal success, they expect to return to the East African nation in the coming year to continue their services.

The first ever all Canadian, Rotaplast team travelled to Ethiopia in mid November where they lived for two weeks, providing much needed health-care to burn victims and individuals who required a cleft lip/palate repair in city of Addis Ababa.

Photo Credit: Rotaplast Canada website.

“These disfiguring conditions cause physical pain, social isolation, and untold suffering in a country where poverty is acute,” read a statement from the Rotaplast Canada blog post.

Dr. Stan Valnicek of Kelowna was a key figure in the Ratoplast team, as the medical director and lead plastic surgeon on this excursion. He has volunteered with several missions in the past and has worked along side fellow doctors in several countries including, Ethiopia, India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

“To be able to bring these surgeries and expertise and this kind of care, it’s a great thing to be a part of. The patients are incredible, and incredibly grateful. We see lives transformed and restored—that is what keeps me going back,” said Valnicek.

Photo Credit: Rotaplast Canada website.

Burn victims in the Addis Ababa region of Ethiopia are more common than one would think, as much of the cooking, laundry, and daily life revolves around a community fire pit. Mission Director for Rotaplast Canada, Jean Bird, said that it’s easy for children and adults to be harmed by these dangerous open fires.

In this particular community there is little access to emergency medical personnel, so many of these individuals are forced to heal as best they can, often resulting in disfiguring and infection.

In an interview with Bird, she commented on some of the worst burn victims she had seen during this year’s trip: one a man was burned at the age of three and for 30 years, he lived with his chin stuck to his chest as a result of this tragic accident.

“The burn contractors are horrific,” said Bird. “The moment that stood out the most was having to walk through the waiting room, and knowing that the OR slate was filled, and having to say no [to patients.] That was the most horrific.”

Despite some sadness, Bird said that the Rotaplast Canada team were able to help a significant number of individuals, adding that this year’s trip was a very fulfilling and life changing event.

Photo Credit: Rotaplast website.

On registration day, 250 people from the community came to the clinic looking for help; the majority of the patients were burn victims. Setting up 2 different operative rooms, the team began with the most severe cases, eventually completing 77 surgeries and registering 147 patients over the course of only two weeks.

Rotaplast Canada is working towards creating a more sustainable project, ensuring that victims receive education on burn related incidents and basic medical care. In addition, the organization would like to create a permanent burn centre in another Ethiopian community, approximately six hours north of Addis.

Photo Credit: Rotaplast website.

Another goal on the Rotaplast Canada agenda is to cultivate a relationship between the organization and the community. Volunteers are working with the community and local medical professionals to help Ethiopians with issues that are directly affecting citizens.

Rotaplast Canada was established as a charitable organization in 2004 to provide information, guidance, and support for Canadian Rotarians who wish to help individuals around the world with this most basic surgery.

Rotary Canada is funded by Rotary International. For more information on the organization and their services, visit the Rotaplast Canada website.

For the previous article on this story, click here.

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