The children make it worthwhile
The normally reclusive surgeon has put himself at the forefront of Chain of Hope’s quest to raise more money for Ethiopian children.
Dr Khan says, “Bill Gates makes his argument for aid by talking about the lives of all children having equal value and he’s right.
“We must also make sure this is reflected in medicine and healthcare.
“When a child becomes sick in the UK, everything is done for them. In Ethiopia and other poor countries, nothing is done.
“They are lucky if something – anything – is done for them.
“Without surgery, these children we treat have no chance to grow or have a normal physical life, go to school, get married.
“They have no access to healthcare, there is no safety net for them...”
During this mission, Dr Khan and his team are treating nine patients, at a cost of around £30,000 to the charity.
Most of Dr Khan’s Ethiopian patients suffer from rheumatic heart disease, a condition that has now been all but eradicated in theWestern world. It is a result of rheumatic fever, which develops following a bacterial infection and can attack the valves of the heart if left untreated and requires surgery.
But Ethiopia is just one of the countries Dr Khan visits to treat sick children for Chain of Hope.
He flies out on two or three medical missions every year, to countries including Mozambique, Egypt, Jamaica and Pakistan, where he was born. Everywhere, the children bowl him over – and some get under his skin.
He says, “I will never forget this little boy in Pakistan who just couldn’t stop running around after his heart op.
“I don’t think he’d ever been able to run in his life before – for him it was such a novelty. He just kept looking at me and smiling. Those moments stay with you in life.”
It might sound like surgery was a vocation for Dr Khan – but actually, just like Tiliku, he grew up dreaming of being an engineer.
He explains, “My dad was studying at a London university so I moved to England with my family when I was six months old.
“After he graduated we moved back to Pakistan, where he set up a business in the glass industry.
“I always wanted to be an engineer because I grew up watching my dad in his factory but my maths was terrible and I had to admit defeat eventually.
“My mum suggested medicine. My grandfather was a professor of orthopaedics and my uncle was a heart surgeon so there was some family history.
“After I qualified as a doctor I spent four years in Sydney and that’s where I started doing heart surgery. I quickly became passionate about it because it’s challenging but it’s amazing how quickly people get better.
“You might see an old man who can’t walk his dog and that really matters to him. After surgery, the quality of life changes completely and it’s very rewarding.”
For Ethiopian doctor Belay Abegaz, just watching Dr Khan at work has been something he will never forget.
He says, “We didn’t give him simple cases this week but the surgery he performed has been quick and successful. I am very excited by his work.
“I want to tie him to this spot and keep him here in Ethiopia forever.”