Awed and Inspired – Raj Petersson, MD

Today is our last day of surgery in Ethiopia. This week has gone by fast and I cannot believe it is the last day of surgery already. I am always awed and inspired on trips with CSI, during which a team of people who have never worked together as a unit, come together and provide the best possible care for children with orofacial clefting and urologic disease. These trips are soul saving for me in that I get to do what I love, without the daily bureaucratic tasks that are ever present in my daily life. The things that I love about my career are providing necessary surgical care for children and educating others to do the same. The Bahir Dar site provides both of these opportunities.

It has been a pleasure working with local surgeons, Drs. Melesse Gebeyehu (head and neck surgery) and Asnake Bitew Kassa (otolaryngology/ototlogy), and their trainees. They are not only talented surgeons who have quickly learned how to perform cleft surgery but are also passionate about what they do and building programs at this site. These are things that align with my own career interests, and it is wonderful interacting with like-minded people who share similar visions on a different continent.  We have talked about formal programs for cleft care that could be built here, especially since they have the drive and training for it.  They have great ideas about further building their skill set and adding subspecialists to their practice. I am proud to be a part of a CSI team that can help provide additional training. In addition, they are wonderful people who are a joy to be around.

We have had a busy week with some long days early on, but we have been able to help many more children than just the ones we operated on by continuing to train our local partners.  It is a testament to the team to carry on the mission during chaotic times in a new hospital setting.  We have had power outages that we had to operate through. Thank goodness I was wearing my battery-operated headlight when it happened during a case. It was an interesting experience operating in the dark. Everyone in the OR remained calm and got all the things we needed to keep the patient safe, and we were able to finish the case.

These trips make me realize how much we can do without the optimal conditions. When we run out of supplies, we improvise, and through the ingenuity of our team members, we always find a way to move forward and continue doing our work. It is a testament to the talent of our local surgeon partners that by the end of the week, I was able to scrub out and supervise from the background.

Part of me always feels a little bad that I go to different parts of the world to perform and teach surgery, but never really see much beyond the hospital and my hotel room. But traveling the world is not why I go on CSI trips. Providing education to local surgeons while being able to provide free surgery to children is why I do this. The icing on the cake is being able to work with the great people, now friends, I’ve met on various CSI trips.

Everyone who works with CSI is passionate about the mission of taking care of children and educating others to do the same in a high-quality fashion. I love that the group is committed to building long-term local partnerships at our sites. Drs. Melesse and Asnake are very skilled surgeons, and it is amazing working with them. I consider them friends and colleagues, and look forward to continued collaboration with them, whether here in Bahir Dar or remotely.

Raj Petersson, MD

More photos here.