(Columbia, MD) - MedStar Health clinicians know the importance of giving back to those in need and seeking out ways to treat people where and how they need it. Wiemi Douoguih, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and Medical Director of MedStar Sports Medicine in Washington, D.C. and MedStar Health at Lafayette Centre, recently led a team of MedStar Health clinicians to Ethiopia.
In four days, Dr. Douoguih and team performed nine complex and advanced surgical procedures at no cost to patients in Addis, Ethiopia. This was the first time these patients could access these innovative joint repair surgeries that would allow them to get back to activities they once loved.
The following is a first person account from Dr. Douoguih of the MedStar Health team’s trip to Ethiopia and his reflections from their experiences treating people in this community with care that will change their lives for the better.
Day 1 – Arrival in Ethiopia with Dr. Douoguih and the MedStar Health team
Landing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia following a more than 13-hour flight from Washington, D.C., I was immediately struck by the energy and excitement of this vibrant city. This was my second visit to the Ethiopian capital, having visited the previous summer with my family to explore our African heritage and learn more about this country and region.
It was this family experience, along with connections established through the MedStar Health network with the Ethiopian community in the Washington, D.C., metro-area – the largest ethnic Ethiopian community outside of Africa – that led me to extend the reach and expertise of MedStar Health’s advanced orthopedic practice to the African continent and people who had never before had access to the tools and expertise that our MedStar Health patients know so well.
While the thin air of the 7,700 ft above sea level city and the haze of a long overnight flight were familiar, my mind was immediately focused on the task at-hand, treating patients. Within hours we arrived at AaBET Hospital in the heart of the city.
Going into the trip, our team of five MedStar Health team physicians and nurses had planned conservatively to ensure we used our three days on-site as efficiently as possible, amidst unfamiliar operating conditions. Thanks to the advanced planning that included months of meetings and phone calls between members of our team and the excellent support from the AaBET Hospital staff, it became clear that we were in a much better position than anticipated to serve the community.
Before the first afternoon was over we had seen 40 patients and tentatively booked 23 surgeries including 12-15 elite professional and Olympic athletes. There was a predominance of ACL tears and multiligament knee injuries as well as shoulder instability and rotator cuff tears, many of which had significant associated injuries.
Day 2 – Surgeries begin at AaBET Hospital
The operating rooms at AaBET Hospital were “bare-bones” compared to my typical facilities at MedStar Health at Lafayette Centre and MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Thanks to the unwavering enthusiasm of the local staff and the expertise and foresight of our traveling MedStar Health team, we were able to jump right in and manage cases just as we would back home.
Prior to our departure, MedStar Health team members Dawit Haile, Maggie MacKeever and Sewasew Kifle had ensured shipment of all the medical devices and surgical tools we would need. We also received support from medical device manufacturers, notably Arthrex and Supreme Orthopedics had generously donated an arthroscopic tower and more than $4,000 worth of disposable implants to enable us to perform some of the first arthroscopic surgeries in Ethiopia. I even packed some disposable implants in my carry-on luggage, just in case!
The first cases were an ACL repair which went smoothly, followed by a shoulder arthroscopy which also needed a rotator cuff repair. As all surgeons know, we have to prepare to adapt and improvise, which we did with the rotator cuff repair when we realized we had to create a makeshift shoulder suspensory device to properly position the shoulder for surgery. With the help of the local medical team, we were able to rig a setup which led to a successful surgery with an anticipated good result long-term.
Day 3 – Surgeries in high-gear and a VIP meeting
Before we got to surgery we had the honor of meeting with Sahle-Work Zewde, President of Ethiopia, at the Royal Palace. It was wonderful to meet President Zewde, Ethiopia’s first female president and currently the only female head of state in Africa. In the hour we had together we discussed a range of topics related to our trip, highlighting the excellence and passion we saw from the local care teams, along with the commitment of MedStar Health to treat people across the globe. She expressed her gratitude for our willingness to travel a great distance to help those in her country and demonstrated a genuine interest in putting whatever resources and support she could behind our efforts to help the young Ethiopian athletes we came to treat. It was an incredible and humbling experience.
We got to work in the OR immediately following our meeting with President Zewde and ran two operating rooms to maximize our time and resources. We navigated sweltering heat in the OR and a couple of power outages, to finish four surgeries in total that day, including three ACL/meniscal surgeries and one open shoulder stabilization procedure.
The day went incredibly smoothly overall and there were many people to thank because without their help, these successful surgeries would not have been possible. Dr. Ebrahim and Dr. Milkias from AaBET Hospital were scrubbed in the entire time and deftly lent a hand wherever needed. Matt Cullen, MedStar Health sports medicine fellow (who started his first day of his MedStar fellowship in Ethiopia) was an excellent assistant and helped coordinate logistics of aftercare in addition to preparing patients for the operating room. Maggie MacKeever, MedStar Health Physician’s Assistant, immediately adapted to the setting and anticipated every need. Sewasew Kifle, MedStar Health nurse, who is from Ethiopia originally, was invaluable in providing all the equipment and helping act as translator into the local languages of Oromo and Amharic. The local in-house anesthesia staff were consummate professionals and did a fantastic job of caring for the patients without a hitch. In all, it was an incredible experience for our team.
We finished the day with a visit to the youth sport academy where 260 students train and learn together with a goal of following a career in sports such as soccer, athletics and a range of others. Our final evening was celebrated with a traditional Ethiopian Habesha dinner and dancing.
Day 4 – Return to Washington, but not before more surgeries
We were able to complete three more successful surgeries, two ACL reconstructions and one knee arthroscopy with a partial meniscectomy. In all, we had performed nine major surgeries on people from all walks of life in Addis, and all with new opportunities to pursue their careers and lives feeling stronger than before.
Not a single implant or piece of equipment went unused, and as our 72 hours in Ethiopia ended, we were all filled with the desire to return as soon as possible, with even more equipment, to give back to the people of Ethiopia, and others across the African continent.
As I reflect on my experience I am struck by the passion and expertise of the Ethiopian medical team we worked with at AaBET Hospital. Working side-by-side with these medical professionals, it is clear that quality of care is not the issue in treating these complex orthopedic injuries, but rather a lack of access to resources and specialty devices. I am encouraged by my conversations with local leaders, including President Zewde, about the future.
This trip and the ability to give back to communities around the globe was possible thanks to the support from MedStar Health– a testament to the organization’s commitment to treat people in many different ways.
It was a privilege to be able to offer the help we could, and I look forward to future efforts to help those in need in Ethiopia and other places around the world.
Wiemi A. Douoguih, MD
MedStar Sports Medicine