Bradford hand experts volunteer to work in war-hit Sierra Leone

A team of clinicians from Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is on an African mission to help those in need.

Consultant Orthopaedic Hand and Wrist Surgeon, David Dickson; Consultant Plastic Surgeon, Zakir Shariff and Specialist Hand Physiotherapist, Sara Dixon, all of whom are based at Bradford Royal Infirmary, are travelling to Sierra Leone, where they will help patients at the Holy Spirit Hospital in Makeni, the province’s largest city.

The two-week trip has come about through the British Society of Surgeons of the Hand (BSSH) and will see the three volunteers carrying out hand, plastic and reconstructive surgery to improve the lives of patients who would otherwise go untreated.

David said: “Sara and I were both looking for an opportunity to work abroad. We went to a BSSH conference with the aim of getting involved and then approached Zakir to complete the team.

“I was set to go out to Sierra Leone four years ago but unfortunately, an Ebola outbreak prevented me at the last minute. The trip will be exciting but there’s definitely a bit of anxiety too as we’ll be undertaking hand surgery in a setting where they have minimal resources.

“We understand they had an x-ray machine but this is now broken and the anaesthetic gas we’ll be using was last seen in the NHS about 15 years ago.

“People have very little there and don’t have access to medicines we take for granted. For example, we’re taking paracetamol and ibuprofen for pain relief. We also have a big bag full of dressings.”

Zakir, who has had experience working in camps in India as a volunteer surgeon, revealed that support for the trip had been amazing with generous colleagues and their own families donating gifts and money.

“We’re taking sweets for the children because they rarely have them. Colleagues have raised money for patients at the hospital because it costs £5 just to be seen and £50 for any surgery. The response has been very touching.

Lasting link

“We are hoping that this trip will be an opportunity to forge a lasting link between the Holy Spirit Hospital and the Trust, and this could be the first of many visits.”

He added that ReSurge Africa, a Scottish-based charity, which provides technical support in the area of reconstructive plastic surgery, had donated surgical kit.

Sara is no stranger to volunteering abroad. When not at work she gives her time supporting SAMS (Syrian American Medical Society), a leading humanitarian organisation, which works to save lives in Syria and neighbouring countries. She has worked with refugees from Syria in Greece and in various clinics and projects in Jordan and Egypt.

She said: “The work we will be doing is upper limb and many of the injuries and conditions we’ll be treating will include things such as old, chronic ulcers, electrical burns, fractures and wounds needing skin grafts; injuries that have been neglected simply because there are no hand surgeons at the hospital. A lot of the patients will be war victims, with various problems.

“I will be doing some general physiotherapy, including supporting the surgery, but also treating children with long term conditions. There has been so much goodwill from our Trust colleagues and support in helping us organise the trip and I really think it will be appreciated by those we will be treating.”

In order to be able to go to Sierra Leone, the three of them have already completed all the Trust work scheduled for when they are away in their own time so that Trust patients are not missing out.

David added: “The trip has been months in the planning and we’d had to make sure we are all up to date with our inoculations and vaccinations against diseases such as cholera and yellow fever. We also have to ensure we take medicines with us to treat ourselves, for example in the event of a needle stick injury as this is in area where we could be in danger of contracting HIV.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us and made this possible especially Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.”

For more information about the Holy Spirit Hospital visit