THE BOTTOM OF THE HEART | Inside a Tanzanian heart surgery
I’m catching my breath at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Another long journey was nearing its end.
This trip had started in a refugee camp in Kenya and continued to the drought affected areas of Tanzania. And now finally with a moment to myself, I needed to decide whether I enter ‘’sleep mode’’ until a flight back to Paris in a couple of days or squeeze the lemon for one more story.
If you're reading this, I chose to chase the story.
Here in Tanzania, I was hoping to make a stop in one of Dar es Salaam's Hospitals.
I wanted to meet a friend I had met in Israel years ago, under extraordinary circumstances.
When we met, Dr. Godwin Godfrey was training to become a paediatric cardiac specialist in Israel. I was filming a news story about a girl undergoing surgery that day.
We met inside the operating theatre, and when I interviewed him after, I was very impressed with the person in front of me. Godwin was humble but sharp, and looked like a person on a mission.
Dr. Godwin finished five years of training in Israel, returned to Tanzania, and became the first paediatric heart surgeon in Tanzania. A prestigious position that comes with heavy responsibility and a phone number that is never available.
Now five years after our first encounter, I was determined to see where his story had taken him. Through a mutual friend, I was able to send a message to Dr. Godwin, saying that I would soon arrive in Tanzania and was hoping to document his work.
But, since landing in Tanzania, I haven’t heard from him.
The silence caused the fatigue to kick in, it was time to give up chasing this story: “I've already done enough for this trip, maybe next time..."
But these were voices of defeat, as I call them.
It took a shower and dinner to refuel and feel rejuvenated again.
Although I still couldn't get Dr. Godwin on the phone, I decided to try to get to him regardless, and if the story was meant to happen, it would.
Searching for the doc
The next morning, I set off for the beating heart of Dar es Salaam to find the hospital Dr. Godwin was at, hoping he would be there. I hadn’t planned anything, or got the proper permissions to film in the hospital.
But I figured all I could do was try, and worst case scenario, I’ll head back to the beach and see out the rest of my trip there.
Arriving at the hospital, after a quick check, the guards at the gate let me in without trouble.
The receptionist at the cardiac institute directed me right to the floor of Dr. Godwin's department with no problem either.
Within minutes I was standing outside the ward, waiting for an answer - and there he was.
Dr. Godwin came to the lobby to pick me up with a big smile on his face.
"What's up brother, come quick, we are about to start,” he tells me in Hebrew.
I was so excited that he was actually here. I was glad that he recognised me.
But I didn't consider asking what is it that we're getting started with?
After a brief introduction and a tour of the department, a nurse handed me clothes to change into. She said anxiously, "we'll have to do something about that,” pointing at my filthy camera that had been through all kinds of hell in the past couple of weeks.
She brought me antiseptic and gave me 10 minutes to shine the camera before they got started.
An hour ago, I did not know Dr. Goodwin would even be here, and now I'm getting ready to document him performing open-heart surgery on a child. I asked Dr. Godwin with admiration, "what are the chances I located you here before surgery?"
He looked at me with a sad smile and explained, "700 children are currently waiting to be operated on, so the chances to find me or the team - before, during or after surgery, are high. He continued:
“It is still not enough. We can only perform 200 operations a year since our crew is small; we are always responding to the demand to save more lives."