Hawassa Ethiopia – Third Surgery Day

Story: Kayla Green
Photos: Micah Green

A surgeon’s tool table is filled with scissors and instruments to cut and put back together. A family ward coordinator’s pockets are filled with toys and Crayons to comfort and keep together.

It takes the full team to complete a successful mission, and while Debbie Kent has no medical degree, her training comes from her heart. While the medical team spends surgery days working with machines and precision, she spends hers playing. And playing is important.

Inside the OR, two more patients have been added to the schedule. More families have walked into the hospital every day to put their trust in the AfS team’s hands. We’ve now screened 39.

The opportunity to change more lives, mend more smiles, requires resourcefulness in finding equipment and flexibility in scheduling, like a puzzle that has multiple iterations. Outside the OR, children and their parents play with puzzles provided by a woman who has been wanting to go on an AfS trip for 15 years.

In Hawassa, her only 60th birthday wish has come true. Kent said she didn’t expect how much she’d bond with the parents even though they don’t speak the same language. A mother and grandmother herself, she knows it must be hard for the parents to hand their children to doctors they’ve never seen before, who look different from what they know. That’s where Kent’s comfort comes in.

Dirshaye Mirtu wears her headband given by Tina Fischlin’s mom while being held by Debbie Kent.

It takes the full team to complete a successful mission, and that goes beyond us on the ground. Kent gives the adults coloring books, the kids Nerf balls, toy cars, bubbles. The girls sport headbands that were hand-knitted by mission director Tina Fischlin’s mother. Rotarians and individual donors make these free surgeries possible. A full team.

Being a parent, having a caring heart, loving children knows no barrier. It transcends culture. It transcends continent. It transcends color.

“I really love seeing how the parents here bond with each other and help each other,” Kent said. “They don’t know each other, but they’ll sit on each other’s beds and reassure them when one gets back from surgery.”

Kent has to do more than monitor the waiting room. She accompanies families to and from the recovery ward, which is in a different building and up four flights of stairs. She checks on them when the doctors do their rounds each morning, each evening.

“Every time I get to see them, it’s like ‘Hi! How is your baby doing? He looks great!’” she said.

Today was the largest patient load. Parents traveled from between 45 and 160 kilometers to save their children from social stigma through a surgery they couldn’t afford without AfS’ model of performing them for free all over the world. While the rest of the non-medical staff was dismissed for the evening to expedite OR clean-up, Kent stayed behind. There was no getting her to leave. “I’ve gotten to know these babies,” she said. “I’ve got to see them through.”

The next morning on rounds, a patient’s sister gave her back a completed page from the coloring book Kent provided to adults to ease their stress and pass their time. On the back, a simple message, written in English: “Thank you for your help.”