Spine surgery on an African girl

Five-year-old Maïssa from Burundi, a small landlocked and underdeveloped east-­central ­African country, had a successful scoliosis surgery in a collaborative project between RCs Mumbai SOBO, RID 3141, and Gand-Maritime, RID 2130, ­Belgium. HELP, the ­medical NGO in ­Belgium, fostered this partnership and arranged for the ­three member medical ­mission from India to the African country in November this year.

In the course of their regular medical missions to Africa, where modern medical care is scarce, “a five-member HELP team of ­doctors and surgeons had a chance to meet Rushoza Laelynn Maïssa in Burundi in November 2022. She was ­suffering from a curved spinal cord, and her mother Karabona ­Martine could not bear the sufferings of her child,” explains Els ­Reynaers, past president, RC Mumbai SOBO.

After her husband passed away last year, as a single mom Martine was finding it difficult to bring up her two daughters, she says. While ­Maïssa’s condition was ­turning ­critical with every passing month, the Belgian NGO contacted Pierre De Vriendt, member, RC Gand-Maritime to explore the ­possibility of corrective surgery.

Karabona Martine with her ­daughters, Rushoza Laelynn Maïssa (left) and her younger sister Rushoza Kaïna Marley. Dr Harshal Bamb is on the right.

Having heard of the Indian Rotarians medical missions to Africa, initiated by PRIP Rajendra Saboo, Vriendt approached Els in Jan 2023 for arranging an emergency mission to Burundi to save the life of the young African girl. “I arranged a zoom meeting between the surgeons of The Spine Foundation (TSF), Mumbai, and ­Martine, mother of the child. TSF doctors advised an MRI scan,” says Els.

After deliberation over the venue of the operation and resolving ­logistical knots, “it was finally decided that a three member team — Dr Abhay Nene, Dr Harshal Bamb from TSF, and neuro technician Jasawala Parichar — will do the surgery at the Mutoyi Government Hospital near ­Bujumbura.” While the Indian doctors paid for their airfare, the hospital and Martine shared the cost of their lodging, medical equipment and consumables. The surgical tools and consumables cost €6,000.

During their one-day stay in Burundi, the doctors examined eight patients referred by the Mutoyi ­Hospital. They also trained two local doctors to handle similar cases in future. Seeing her daughter Maïssa, studying in senior KG, bounce back with joy and a ready smile on her lips, Martine says, “I am forever ­grateful to Rotary. I don’t even know how to express my heartfelt thanks to two Rotary clubs in ­Belgium and India.”

Pleased with the success of the medical mission, Vriendt is ­“grateful to Indian surgeons who took efforts to come to Burundi and help Maïssa.” RC Mumbai SOBO ­president Saurav Purkayastha says that it was a “nice collaborative effort between Rotary clubs from two continents willing to help a little, cute girl ­living in one of the poorest countries of the world.”

The Mumbai club is right now doing a GG project (₹50 lakh) of performing free spine surgeries in the tribal areas of  Maharashtra with the support of around 12 TSF ­surgeons. “We have done 44 ­surgeries in tribal hamlets since April 2023,” smiles Els.

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