Hampstead charity sends medics to Ethiopia to tackle serious facial disfigurements

The Project Harar team in Ethiopia

The Project Harar team in Ethiopia - Credit: Archant

A Hampstead charity is sending 25 medics to perform life-changing facial surgery in Ethiopia.

Preparing for surgery - Joe trains local teams in anesthetics, to allow the local teams to handle i

Preparing for surgery - Joe trains local teams in anesthetics, to allow the local teams to handle increasingly complex cases all year round. - Credit: Archant

Project Harar’s volunteer surgeons, junior doctors and nurses will fly out to the capital, Addis Ababa, for the complex surgical mission.

The team, led by Professor Mark McGurk, a surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, will operate on 50 patients with the most complex facial disfigurements, which stop them from eating, drinking, breathing and integrating into society.

They tackle conditions such as noma – a facial gangrene – tumours, animal attack injuries, burns and gunshot wounds.

Project Harar, based near Hampstead Heath, organises hundreds of operations, such as cleft lip and palate, all year round in Ethiopia.

Catherine Collins and Sarah Elliott with Ethopian nurses

Catherine Collins and Sarah Elliott with Ethopian nurses - Credit: Archant

It also carries out education and outreach with communities who think the conditions are the “will of God” and nothing can be done about them.

The charity was set up by Jonathan Crown, who has run a property business in the area for around 25 years.

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He started it after a trip to Ethiopia in 2001, when he met two nine-year-old boys whose faces were severely disfigured.

The following year he arranged for them to fly to the Gambia for operations, and since then has treated more than 5,000 patients.

It hopes to have treated more than 1,000 people by the end of 2016.

Lead nurse Catherine Collins, 31, who has been on three surgical missions, said: “It’s completely enjoyable.

“It’s a lovely country.

“I usually fall in love with countries because of the food – but I don’t even really like the food.”

And she continued: “A few times we’ve had the same patient come back a year later for further revision surgery which is lovely – they look incredible.”

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.

“Without this vital training our work wouldn’t be able to go so far.”

And Mr Crown said he is proud of how far the charity has gone since it was founded.

He said: “The transformation of these brave patients is profound. We know from our research that our patients are allowed back into school, to have friends and family and to have a life.

“Most of them are able to reintegrate into society.

“I have pictures now of people getting married – which they probably wouldn’t have been able to without the surgery. Going back and seeing them is fantastic.”

The medical volunteers give up their own holiday time, but they need help to cover the costs of their flights and food. Each medic who volunteers on the Complex Mission has to raise £1,000 to cover the costs of their flights, food and accommodation.

To find out more, go justgiving.com/fundraising/complex-mission-2016 or projectharar.org/news-news/our-complex-mission-2016-