Afiya Sare

Afiya Sare

An Advocate Children’s Hospital surgical team donates their services to help a young African girl.

drrugeafiyaOne-year-old Afiya Sare was born with an open spine in Burkina Faso, Africa. Because she didn’t have any early surgical interventions, she developed a life-threatening infection and urgently needed specialized pediatric care not available in her hometown.

“I received a communication from the Children’s Medical Mission West searching for someone who would help a little girl from Africa who had a large, unrepaired myelomeningocele, which are best repaired within 24 hours of birth,” says Dr. John Ruge (pictured), chief of pediatric neurosurgery for Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “Without surgery she would eventually die from infection and have progressive neurologic impairment prior to her demise.”

A team of physicians, nurses and many others involved decided to volunteer their services in hopes of helping the child. Afiya flew to the U.S. with an escort. American hosts provided loving arms in place of her parents who were so far away.

Surgery involved dissecting her nerve roots and lower spinal cord from the scarred mass of tissue that she was born with and which scarred severely from lack of early surgical intervention. Dr. Frank Vicari, chief of pediatric plastic surgery at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, closed a large open wound during surgery.

With a team effort, Afiya’s spinal cord was put back into a more natural position and her back defect was repaired. She is doing well and is expected to go back home to her parents soon.

“This type of problem requires a pediatric hospital, and the beauty of a pediatric hospital, especially this one, is that you have teams available on really short notice to tackle difficult, complicated problems,” says Dr. Vicari, who has been partnering with Dr. Ruge on surgeries for more than 20 years.

“When the request came to us, there wasn’t a single person who flinched,” says Dr. Ruge. “Everyone said if the child needed help, we’ll be glad to provide the care.”