A proudly South African-led rescue mission crossed the airspace of 10 countries into war-torn Yemen to save the life of a month-old baby.

Yazan Yousif Qade was in dire need of heart surgery, but the current civil war in the country meant the mission would be high risk.

Yazan suffers from a life-threatening congenital coarctation of the aorta, which is the narrowing of the large blood vessel branching from the heart.

Medair chief executive Bruce Johnstone said they had been approached by Alliance International Medical Services (Aims) to tackle the evacuation because other countries, including the United Arab Emirates and European nations, were unwilling to undertake the mission.

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Netcare 911 chief operating officer, Craig Grindell, said Aims South Africa decided that Netcare Sunninghill Hospital was the appropriate facility to provide the highly-specialised cardiac care.

Grindell said the mission required “meticulous planning and logistical support at every level”.

“The safety and well-being 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,” he said.

According to Johnstone, who himself served as a military pilot for 10 years, flight clearances had to be obtained for every country’s airspace to and from 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 time slots 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 Co-operation provided considerable assistance in this regard,” Johnstone noted.

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The mission, which had to be undertaken in two legs, saw Medair pilots Brendan Boraine, Curtis Griessel, Pieter van der Merwe and Wikus Strydom in action. Netcare 911’s flight doctor Dr Kevin Hjul and emergency care practitioner Craig Pyott provided medical care for the baby throughout the flight.

“The return trip went smoothly from a medical perspective, and the air ambulance landed at Lanseria International Airport just after 5am on Friday, February 12. The baby was transported directly to Netcare Sunninghill Hospital for the heart surgery he so urgently needed,” Grindell said.

The infant underwent an emergency procedure the same afternoon that he landed. The procedure – performed by cardio-thoracic surgeons Dr Hendrik Mamorare, 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.

“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 Co-operation.”

Kok said the hospital took mother Ameera Hussian Aljadbi under their wing and were able to communicate with her via an interpreter who was arranged by AIMS.

“She is an extremely brave woman.”

Grindell said the teamwork between Aims, Medair, the South African Department of International Relations and Co-operation, Yemen embassy, Netcare Sunninghill Hospital and Netcare 911 was “nothing short of inspirational”.

“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.”

Grindell further praised the Medair and Netcare 911 teams who transported the infant 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.”

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Brent Lindeque
About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and man in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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