(Courtesy of Rambam Medical Center) When Dr. Omri Emodi of Rambam Medical Center thinks about his summer, a smile comes to his face. And there are another 155 children in Ghana who are also smiling, some for the first time, thanks to Dr. Emodi, a craniofacial surgeon. Dr. Emodi went to Ghana to operate on the children, all of whom suffered from facial deformities.
Together with his colleague, Dr. Zach Sharony, a plastic surgeon at Rambam, they were in Africa on a mission organized by Operation Smile, a US-based humanitarian organization, along with a team of surgeons and medical staff from 12 countries.
“If a child has a facial deformity, it can affect eating, drinking, speaking and, of course, his or her own self-image,” explains Dr. Emodi. “You walk with a sign on you, especially in Africa. You could easily be an outcast.”
Patients, ranging in age from a few months old to their 20s, came from all over Ghana, some as far as 500 miles away. Most of the operations were on cleft lips and palates, along with other more complex surgeries on facial deformities. Working non-stop in seven makeshift surgery rooms in Ho, the capital city of Ghana, the doctors operated on many patients in particularly challenging circumstances. They were part of an international team of surgeons, technicians, nursing staff and anesthesiologists assembled by Operation Smile. The 155 operations were completed in 8 days. “You work with a team that you do not know and who come from another culture. But once you get into the rhythm, everyone becomes one team, motivated by the desire to help these people,” said Dr. Emodi.
It takes only less than one hour for the operation, he says, but can change the life of a child. “The mission is so satisfying,” he added smiling. “It’s like a gift from God,” said the surgeon.
The procedures are done at no cost to the children or their families, as Operation Smile underwrites the project. The challenge is to reach as many possible in the short time available. “In Ghana there are only 20 qualified surgeons—with a population of 20 million people—who can perform these operations,” he said.
The two doctors from the hospital in Haifa have a long tradition of taking part in missions to Vietnam, Ethiopia, the Philippines and other countries, treating dozens of patients wherever they go.
Their commitment and experience is a reflection of their work at Rambam, where medical care transcends borders and political conflicts, as he notes the treatment of Palestinians and patients from war-torn Syria and neighboring Arab countries.
Dr. Emodi, 46, married and the father of three children, studied in Holland and trained in Israel and at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, before returning to Rambam, where he is the deputy director of the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Rambam. “I feel privileged to be able to make a difference in children’s lives.”