Whitechapel doctor finds volunteering for facial surgery trip to Ethiopia “rewarding”

A junior doctor from Whitechapel says helping out with surgery on youngsters with facial deformities and injuries in Ethiopia was the “most rewarding thing” she has ever done.

Fiona McClenaghan, 25, was the youngest of fourteen medics volunteering to treat 42 people, mostly teenagers, from rural Ethiopia at a hospital in the capital of Addis Ababa. The team also helped train local medical staff.

She has now started working at the Royal London Hospital on Whitechapel Road after returning from the trip at the end of last month.

Thousands of children across Ethiopia suffer from facial disabilities, including from animal attacks, accidents, dental problems or facial tumours, according to Harar Ethiopia, the UK medical charity organising the trip.

During her six-week stay Dr McClenaghan assisted senior surgeons during facial operations and helped with patient aftercare.

She said: “It was certainly the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

“We faced incredibly difficult working conditions. We had electricity and water shortages and the supply of drugs we brought was limited.

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“There was also a language barrier as only a few of the local nurses, and none of the patients, spoke English.

“Many of the patients were desperate to improve their ability to eat and speak but most wanted surgery to fit into normal life from which they had been excluded due to their appearance.”

Among the people leaving a lasting impression on Dr McClenaghan was an 18-year-old mother with an 18 month old baby whose brain was protruding through its skull,

She said: “It was reduced by surgery and facial deformity was no longer showing. It’s nice when you can make a difference so early and hopefully the child won’t be too affected growing up.”