by Sara Bettoni
Started annual expeditions from Peru with his father. Faldini: «I feel indebted to Africa, which taught me to look at illness and the patient differently»
The eyes he cannot forget are those of Gertruda. «A little girl from Tanzania, she had legs that looked like two brackets. We had to break her bone eight times to correct her deformity, in an alternating relay between me and my dad.”
Before and after her, another 1,800 operations that Cesare Faldini performed in over 20 years in Africa with instruments and equipment that were very different (and in decidedly smaller numbers) compared to those offered in the operating rooms of the Rizzoli in Bologna, where he directs the Orthopedic Clinic 1. But the companies of Ortopedici.org, the non-profit organization he presides over, have South American roots. «I left for Peru in 1993, as a medical student. They were looking for volunteers to stop the cholera epidemic. My family is closely linked to that country: my father and my uncle took refuge there with their parents to escape the persecution against the Jews. My grandfather is also buried in Peru.”
The mission as restitution, thanksgiving. «Once I returned to Italy, I said to myself: «I want to do this when I grow up». Years pass, Faldini graduates and starts working in Bologna and not in Pisa, where his father Alessandro is a point of reference in the sector, “to avoid accusations of nepotism”. An anesthesiologist friend suggests he leave again.
This time the destination is Tanzania. Faldini junior, specializing, asks his father to accompany him. “The skills of an expert surgeon were needed.” And so, on another continent the collaboration that would have been frowned upon in Italy becomes possible. «We have become “sick of Africa” again». Since then, annual shipments have begun, interspersed with the sending of containers with everything necessary for operation and treatment. A few years later the paths of father and son part ways. «I moved to Eritrea to train local surgeons. The altitude of Asmara was not suitable for dad, a heart patient, who went to Cameroon instead. There he contributed to creating an orthopedic centre, the Saint Alexander of Douala, and to developing local doctors together with Massimo Misiti and Antonio Macchiarola.” The last trip at 84 years old, shortly before his death.
Now the baton has been passed to Cesare, who a month ago returned from the periodic expedition to treat, among other things, the “impossible knees” of Alfy, 11 years old, John, 16, Sheila, 25. Why all these difficult cases ? It’s the fault of the lack of local paediatrics – he explains -, that is, the protective eye of the National Health System which begins to take care of citizens as children, with those visits that we all have had”. Sometimes an orthopedic shoe or a small operation is enough to correct the problem, if it is identified immediately. But all this doesn’t exist in Cameroon. And so small deformities become disasters to operate on. This is the battle that the doctors of Ortopedici.org are fighting. Who return gratified by every shipment. «Healthcare in an industrialized context transforms us into cogs in a gear, while in a small hospital empathy increases: in the afternoon you find yourself playing with the children you visited in the morning – says Faldini -. I feel indebted to Africa, which taught me to look at illness and the patient differently.” In the meantime, we are starting to accumulate material to send to Cameroon in containers. Waiting to pack up again and see Gertruda and many other children with “impossible” knees again.
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November 20, 2023 (modified November 20, 2023 | 4:18 pm)
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