Within five days, a 40-member international delegation of physicians, including two Israelis, performed 91 operations that changed the lives of dozens of children and adults in northern Ethiopia.

The team, which included senior surgeons from the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, reached the city of Mekele, about an hour’s drive from the capital, as part of the continuing work of Operation Smile.

The project has focused on people in the Third World who suffer from congenital disfigurement from cleft lip and palate.

The other surgeons, besides Rambam’s Dr. Omri Emodi and Dr. Zach Sharony, came from the US, Sweden, Peru, South Africa, India, Ghana and Ethiopia itself.

Emodi, who is a maxillofacial surgeon, and Sharony, a plastic surgeon, worked closely with an Egyptian orthodontist.

Residents of Mekele are mostly Catholics from the area’s ruling Tigri tribe, and the city – surrounded by villages – has about 200,000 residents.

As news of the delegation’s arrival spread throughout the area, patients with the disfigurement and their families created long queues at the local hospital.

After six days of examinations, a total of 91 patients were regarded as suitable for the operations.

They ranged from half-a-year-old to middle aged. Each one had suffered from a lifelong facial defect and medical and speech problems due to cleft lip and/or palate.

Full treatment involved multidisciplinary teams that included surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, operating room technicians, pediatricians, speech therapists, dentists, orthodontists and operating room technicians.

All of the team members were helped by interpreters and logistics and hospital professional staff.

In addition to treating the local patients, the international delegation used the operating room time to train local doctors, hospital staff and specialists who came from throughout Ethiopia with the particular goal of advancing their knowledge.

“This is the second time I’ve come to Ethiopia under this framework,” said Emodi, “I was amazed by my first experience; this time I’ve been excited by the immense satisfaction gained from this moving situation. I have met people who needed help and couldn’t get it, and I’ve had the power and tools to meet their need and to improve their quality of life. There is no better way.”

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