Pro bono surgery saves girl's life

A delegation of Israeli doctors and volunteers from the Eye from Zion organization traveled to Ethiopia recently to perform 160 cataract surgeries in a portable operation room donated by Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. During their visit, they met Kavda Imsak, a 10-year-old girl who suffered from a large tumor in her eye.

Since Ethiopian hospitals are not equipped for such operations, Imsak had to live with the large growth until the Israeli delegation arrived.

At first the team, headed by Dr. Nachum Rosen, preformed a preliminary surgery to discern whether the tumor was cancerous or benign. Later on, they decided to bring her to Israel to remove it.

"The chances of recovery are very slim," said Eye from Zion founder Nati Marcus, who insisted on bringing the girl to Israel. "As soon as I saw her I decided to take a chance," he explained. 

Once it was decided to bring her to Israel for surgery, arrangements were coordinated with MASHAV, Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation, the Foreign Ministry, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the surgeons who agreed to operate pro bono.

According to Marcus, many offered to help, including the best doctors in the country who asked to take part in the complex operation, and hospitals that offered to donate surgery and recovery rooms. 

Imsak arrived in Israel with her older sister, and was admitted to Sheba Medical Center. After extensive examinations, she was successfully operated on by two eye plastic surgery specialists, Dr. Guy Ben-Simon and Dr. Nahum Rozen. In a few days she is expected be taken to Haifa, where Dr. Yoav Vardizer will fit her for a prosthetic eye. She is then to return home to Ethiopia.

 "This is not a routine surgery and it can't be done by a single person" said Dr. Ben-Simon. "I have consulted with many colleagues around the world before entering the OR." According to Ben-Simon, a large team participated in the complex surgery, including an imaging team.  

Ben-Simon said that although the tumor was benign it had life threatening implications for the girl, in addition to blindness and obvious aesthetic harm. Its size made it impossible to completely remove without harming important blood vessels, but the team removed as much as they could.

"The hospital performs orbit surgeries on patients from all over the world, and there aren't many cases of tumors like this," Ben-Simon said. Now that the surgery was successful everybody feels relieved, he added. Imsak is facing a long recovery, but the doctor said he hopes to participate in next year's delegation to Ethiopia, and follow up on his patient there.

This is not the first pro bono operation for Ben-Simon. Together with friends and colleagues he volunteers in various places with Eye from Zion and independently. The delegations consist of volunteers who fund their own travel.

Eye from Zion operates in various places including Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Micronesia, Myanmar and Ethiopia, sending advanced equipment, specialists, operating room nurses and experts to remote locales.

 According to Marcus, the volunteers are the best ambassadors Israel can ask for. "This is the pretty face of Israel," he said.

Written By: Liron Sinay of Ynet News, Published on February 26, 2012

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