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Rambam Doctors Perform Life-saving Surgery in Ethiopia During Blackout

Rambam Health Care Campus

Rambam Doctors Perform Surgery in the Dark (Photo: RHCC)

Last week, a humanitarian delegation from Rambam Health Care Campus (Rambam), performed surgical procedures on patients in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. During one such surgery, there was a sudden blackout – there had been a general power failure and for 15 long minutes, the backup generator start up. In less than a minute the Israeli and Ethiopian medical teams responded, flashing the light of their mobile phones on the surgical site while others began to manually pump air into their small patient’s nose since the electric ventilator had also stopped working.

Israel is known for providing its medical expertise to nations around the world. Many patients from third world countries come to Israel for treatment. Some Ukrainian refugees were treated in Israeli hospitals after the 2022 Russian invasion of their country and Israeli medical personnel staffed a field hospital the country provided for Ukrainian refugees in Europe.

“Power outages are a part of life in these countries,” says Dr. Yotam 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.”

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Within seconds, the operation continued under the light of Dr. Shkedy’s surgical headlight and the smartphone flashlights of everyone standing around the patient’s bed. Since the electric ventilator had also stopped, the Ethiopian anesthesia team, assisted by Dr. Vasile Recea, deputy director of Rambam’s anesthesia department, began manual ventilation. The surgical procedure continued under these conditions for over fifteen minutes – until power returned. Even then, the surgery continued until successfully completed.

“Lots of thoughts cross your mind when working in third-world countries, but working in an operating room without electricity never crossed my mind,” Dr. Shkedy shares. “Happily, our patient’s life was never in danger, despite the power outage.”

A collaboration between Rambam and St. Peter’s Hospital in Addis Ababa started about a year ago when Dr. Shkedy went 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, and a week ago, Rambam sent another delegation of volunteers to the hospital to offer expanded services, including head and neck surgery and gynecological treatments.

The current delegation included Dr. Shkedy, Dr. Recea, Dr. Nir Haya, director of the gynecology unit at Rambam, and Avivit Nitka the coordinating nurse for head and neck surgery. During their stay in Addis Ababa, the members of the delegation treated dozens of local patients and performed over ten 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,” Dr. Shkedy summarizes the last activity, “especially when another surgery is successfully completed and we have given assistance to those who needed it.”

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