SA medical evacuation specialists were baby’s ‘last chance at life’
A South African mercy flight traversing 15 935 kilometres across the airspace of 10 countries into war-torn Yemen, has saved the life of a month-old baby.
Yazan Yousif Qade was in dire need of heart surgery, but to get to the doctors who could treat him, a team of South African medical aviation evacuation specialists had to find a way to safely evacuate him and his mother from Yemen on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. Due to the current civil war in the country the little boy could not obtain medical care.
“When we were approached by Alliance International Medical Services (AIMS) to take on this medical evacuation, we were told that our counterparts in other countries, including the United Arab Emirates and European nations, were unwilling to undertake this highly complex mission. Despite the difficult and dangerous situation, Netcare 911 and its medical aviation partner, Medair, felt compelled to help as it was made clear to us that we were Yazan’s last hope,” recalls Bruce Johnstone, chief executive of Medair.
Born on 4 January 2016, Yazan was only 28 days old when Netcare 911 and Medair were alerted to his predicament. Netcare 911 chief operating officer, Craig Grindell, says that AIMS South Africa felt that Netcare Sunninghill Hospital was the best placed facility to provide the highly specialised cardiac care that the baby needed.
“As the patient was so young and had such compromised health, it was necessary for him to be monitored closely throughout the flight from Yemen to Johannesburg. While Netcare 911 is well placed to undertake mercy flights of this nature, given its highly qualified emergency medical evacuation team, this was clearly a mission with a difference that required meticulous planning and logistical support at every level. The safety and wellbeing of our highly trained healthcare professionals, who needed to monitor the critically ill Yazan during the long flight, were of paramount importance throughout this operation,” elaborates Grindell.
Johnstone, who himself served as a military pilot for 10 years, had a full appreciation for the potential operational difficulties involved in this aerial mission, which involved flying over certain conflict areas. In addition, flight clearances had to be obtained for every country’s airspace that would be traversed during the long flight from and back to South Africa.
“Transporting such a young and critically ill patient is an intricate process in itself, but this case was further complicated by the fact that permission had to be sought from the Saudi Arabian authorities to cross Saudi airspace, and we then had to wait for them to give us safe timeslots for the flights. We were fully cognisant of the political sensitivities that needed to be negotiated for us to conduct a mercy flight in that part of the world. The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation provided considerable assistance in this regard,” Johnstone notes.
In addition, the Netcare 911 aircraft, a Hawker 800, needed to land in Bisha, Saudi Arabia, for inspection both on its way to neighbouring Yemen and on the return to South Africa. The Medair pilots who volunteered to undertake the mission, which had to be undertaken in two legs, were Brendan Boraine , Curtis Griessel, Pieter van der Merwe and Wikus Strydom. Netcare 911’s flight doctor, Dr Kevin Hjul, and emergency care practitioner Craig Pyott provided medical care for the baby throughout the flight.
The Hawker 800 air ambulance is equipped as a mobile intensive care unit and is capable of long-range missions. This aircraft has the call signal ZSAOA, “ZS” indicating that the aeroplane is South African and, appropriately, “AOA” stands for “Angels Over Africa”.
Unfortunately the aircraft could only accommodate one of the baby’s parents, his mother Ameera Hussian Aljadbi. Due to the closure of the Saudi Arabian border his father has not been able to join the family in South Africa.
“The return trip went smoothly from a medical perspective, and the air ambulance landed at Lanseria International Airport just after 5am on Friday, 12 February. The baby was transported directly to Netcare Sunninghill Hospital for the heart surgery he so urgently needed,” reports Grindell.
Yazan, who suffered from a life-threatening congenital coarctation of the aorta, which is the narrowing of the large blood vessel branching from the heart, underwent an emergency procedure that very afternoon. The procedure, performed by cardio-thoracic surgeons, Dr Hendrik Mamorare and Dr Izak de Villiers Jonker, and paediatric cardiologist, Dr Raymond Dansky, was a success. Yazan, who returned home this week, recovered well in the paediatric cardio-thoracic unit at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital under the care of paediatric intensivist, Dr Saskia Coetzee.
According to unit manager, Sister Ina Kok, the team at the hospital waited more than 10 days for baby Yazan to arrive in the country for the life-saving treatment he required. “This is a special little baby who crept deep into the hearts of the staff and doctors here at the hospital. We are so pleased that he has recovered so well.”
“The family received tremendous support from their embassy and the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation. We took Ms Aljadhi under our wing and were able to communicate with her via an interpreter who was arranged by AIMS. She is an extremely brave woman.”
“It is heart-warming that we were all able to work together under the most difficult of circumstances to save the life of a little human being from a faraway, war ravaged country. The teamwork between AIMS, Medair, the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Yemen embassy, Netcare Sunninghill Hospital and Netcare 911 has been nothing short of inspirational,” says Grindell.
“All kudos to the Medair and Netcare 911 teams who worked hard to bring this little boy safely to South Africa. We hold it as a point of honour that our tiny patient was safely brought halfway around the world to receive the world-class medical treatment Netcare Sunninghill Hospital has to offer. It is gratifying to know that Yazan is recovering well,” concludes Grindell.