Thirteen thousand nautical miles. Sixteen thousand road miles. Two thousand five hundred patients. Seven hundred and thirty operations. Six months. This is the gruelling schedule of the doctors at medical charity, FlySpec. Up until just a few months ago, I had never heard of FlySpec although I had, of course, heard about the mover and the shaker behind FlySpec, John Jellis OBE (above), well known Lusaka-based Orthopaedic Surgeon. If you have been here for any length of time then, I am sure, like me this will be the first name that comes to mind if someone breaks an arm or a leg and he will have treated either you or one of your family over the years.
FlySpec is a flying medical service which takes free orthopaedic and reconstructive surgery and more recently prosthetic and orthotic services by air, to disabled people in rural communities all over Zambia; places where such specialist surgery is not otherwise available. Originally set up by John, his partner who is also a pilot is Goran Jovic, a Serbian reconstructive plastic surgeon. Between the two of them, and the odd visiting volunteer specialist, they traverse the length and breadth of this vast country, either by air or by road and when they get there they treat patients who would otherwise have gone untreated. Some of their patients have congenital deformities, but others have deformities as a result of accidents or bone infections. Over sixty percent of their patients are physically disabled children.
In addition to the operations and other treatment, they also work with the Zambian Italian Orthopaedic Hospital workshop to provide prosthetic and orthotic services to disabled people, delivering seven or eight devices per month to both male and female patients, giving them mobility in the already tough rural environment in which they live.
And the statistics are impressive – 2573 consultations and 733 operations in the first six months of 2012, almost 3500 consultations and 936 operations in the first 8 months of 2011. And all for a cost of less than $150 per operation.
But now disaster has struck. During recent routine maintenance, metal particles were found in the oil filter of their Cessna 206 aircraft. Metal particles indicate serious trouble and the aircraft has been grounded. This does not mean that FlySpec is at a standstill, as the pilots of Flying Mission Zambia (FMZ) give their time for free. But FMZ cannot keep their aircraft on the ground for a few days whilst John and Goron carry out their consultations and operations. This means they are dropped at a remote hospital and then picked up again, doubling fuel and aircraft operating costs.
A factory overhauled engine for the FlySpec aircraft costs $44,000. Shipping and importation will cost about $10,000 while the 40-hours of work to refit the engine and the necessary overhaul of other components will cost a further $12,000. Making it $66,000 in all.
FlySpec does have an aircraft contingency reserve account and $25,000 has been paid from this account toward the new engine. The Beit Trust has also given FlySpec a grant of $ 30,000 and €15,000 has been received through Stichtung Muli Shani from supporters in the Netherlands meaning that they have sufficient to cover the cost of the new engine.
Now all that remains is to find the funds to cover the increased cost of flying to keep this worthwhile charity and its dedicated doctors in the air and in the operating theatre until the new engine arrives. Despite promises of a six week lead time we all know that it is likely that this will be longer. Then they have to get the engine here, have it cleared and then have it fitted and then have it all checked before they can take to the skies again.
For more information or if you are able to help in any way, please contact John Jellis on email firstname.lastname@example.org