7 May 2020

Dr John Chatterjee volunteering
with Project Harar in Ethiopia.

A London's Air Ambulance consultant has recently returned from volunteering with Project Harar providing complex surgery to young people in Ethiopia.

London’s Air Ambulance Charity were delighted to team up with Project Harar as they hosted a virtual ‘pub quiz’ bringing together supporters, volunteers and medics to help raise funds for both charities.

Project Harar generously donated half of the proceeds from the quiz to London’s Air Ambulance Charity, and the two charities are continuing to work together to raise awareness of the incredible work their teams do.

Rebuilding faces, changing lives

Project Harar is British / Ethiopian medical charity which is dedicated to "Rebuilding faces, changing Lives".  It works in the poorest and most remote areas of Ethiopia to provide access to treatment for young patients with cleft lip and palate and other complex facial disfigurements.

Project Harar logo

These conditions seriously affect the children as they grow up and are a source of stigma and exclusion in their communities. Without Project Harar, the distance and cost of reaching the capital would make treatment impossible for these families.

Dr John Chatterjee

Dr John Chatterjee in London's Air Ambulance flying suit
Dr John Chatterjee in his London's
Air Ambulance flight suit.

Dr Chatterjee, a Consultant in Pre-Hospital Medicine working with London’s Air Ambulance has seen first-hand the vital work of both organisations.

Alongside his work with Barts NHS Health Trust and London’s Air Ambulance, he is also an Anaesthetist with Project Harar. Earlier this year, he spent time in Ethiopia leading the anaesthetic component of a complex surgical mission.

John shares his thoughts on the similarities between the two charities, particularly in light of the impact of Covid-19, and why he feels privileged to do his role.

"This has been an unprecedented time for both our country as a whole and, within my experience, the NHS. Demands have been made across the spectrum, of people from all walks of life, from the ICU nurses to key workers ensuring that essential services keep going.

"In my experience people have stood up and delivered beyond any expectation but it has not come as a surprise to me.

"It's the same attitude, the same ability to consistently deliver above expectations"

"It's the same attitude, the same ability to consistently deliver above expectations, that I experience in the teams that London's Air Ambulance have on call 24/7 for the people of London and in the Project Harar staff delivering expert surgical care hand in hand with our Ethiopian colleagues.

"It exists in NHS across London, and in the Nightingale Field Hospital; it is a privilege to play a small role in this."

Invited by a living legend

In February, Dr Helena Scott, a living legend of Guy’s Hospital's Anaesthetic Department, asked John to sub in for her to lead the Anaesthetic component of the 2020 Project Harar Complex mission.  ("You can’t say no to someone who was on your interview panel after all!").

Working in Addis Ababa

Providing medical care to a Project Harar patient in Ethiopia
Providing medical care to a young
patient in Addis Ababa.

In Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, the team operated continuously for two weeks on complex surgical cases.

"Everyday any of the cases we faced would have been amongst the toughest in any UK hospital."

"I was impressed by the medical staff at the Yekatit 12 hospital hosting us and the level of expertise and collaboration between world class surgeons. There were heart-rending moments where the realities of what was being achieved hit everyone."

The team of anaesthetic doctors consisted of two Consultants and two trainees with half being UK military doctors.

"This close collaboration is something I have seen mirrored in the working partnership day to day at London’s Air Ambulance. I am lucky to have in the team both Consultants colleagues and seconded military Doctors, and an excellent working relationship with specialist units in both the military and the police.

"This is something I see continue and strengthen the NHS Nightingale where I have been assisting the London Ambulance Service with critical care transfers."

The spirit that connects medical staff in London and Ethiopia

Finally, back to Dr Scott.  At Guy’s Hospital she volunteered to step back and join me on the on call rota and do 150% of our normal hours.

"She put herself at risk as part of the intubation team for the sickest COVID patients, providing medical expertise and most importantly compassion and care to those in need.

"We at Guy’s Hospital, the NHS and at London’s Air Ambulance continue to be there for those who need us."

"This is the spirit I saw in Project Harar and this is why I’m impressed....but not surprised."

Read more about some of the extraordinary children and adults helped during Project Harar's 2020 Complex Surgical Mission.