Belfast Medics Making History in Nigeria by Reopening a Cardiac Surgical Unit


Volunteers from the cardiac surgical team at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast were joined by 3 others from England on a medical mission to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH), Enugu, in Nigeria. Led by our cardiac surgeon, Mr Oc Nzewi, the nine volunteers made history in Nigeria by reopening a cardiac surgical unit after 15 years of closure; it is now the first of its kind in the country.

Before the trip the Belfast HSC Trust team raised over £3000 to help with the mission and this went towards setting standards for patient safety and building good medical practice into the local health services. The aim of the trip was to extend assistance and knowledge in medical specialities, retrain staff to be confident and become self reliant.

Successful Outcomes

During the teams stay in Nigeria they worked with three anaesthetic trainees successfully teaching them the fundamentals of cardiac anaesthesia and intensive care. A Belfast Trust nurse worked closely with the nursing staff in Nigeria and provided a crash course in cardiac surgery intensive care nursing. However the biggest accomplishment was performing life saving, open heart cardiac surgery on 5 patients with 4 out of the 5 patients returning home during the mission.

One of the trainees in the Nigerian hospital, Ikem Okonkwo wrote,
“Before you came I didn’t know what to expect, I wanted to learn and I was ready. I felt you guys were too advanced and probably would have no time for us. I experienced the exact opposite, thank you for reaching out to us. Beyond anaesthesia I learnt a lot from you, you showed us humanity at its best, taught me to think, humility and devotion. I am no more the same. You lit a candle in me, and I'll light others. I promise I will try my best to be a better person and anaesthetist. Thank you so much”

Cardiac team in NigeriaMr. Nzewi, Consultant in Cardiac Surgery Belfast Trust, who led the medical mission, wrote. “The importance of volunteers’ participation and equipment donations cannot be understated. Our team from Belfast is committed to retraining doctors and nurses from many medical specialities and make them find their feet again and establish their best medical practice in Nigeria. We intend to maintain patient safety at all times during our visits, to treat the patients as well as teaching and training the medical professionals. This is possible only with the special skills and dedication of the participating volunteers and the equipment and materials we receive. No doubt our medical mission to Nigeria made a huge difference not only to patients but to the medical community and to the country of Nigeria.”

Future Plans

This trip was arranged by the VOOM Foundation, a non-government organization based in USA. The team is committed to yearly missions until the cardiac surgical unit is functionally independent. The next mission will take place in March- April 2014, and it will undoubtedly be a rewarding challenge. The team will continue to fundraise for the next trip.
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