Mitiku Belachew still remembers her pleading eyes. The nurse was obese and unhappy: “Help me to heal,” she had begged forty years ago in the Civil Hospital of Bavaria, in Liege. The surgeon knew that the Atlantic was a surgical solution for the treatment of morbid obesity. It was marginal, complications were dangerous. “Whatever, replied his patient. For me, now it’s a matter of life or death. “After a good preparation, the Mitiku Belachew operates. Word-of-mouth racing. “From that time, and despite myself, I became a specialist in obesity surgery,” if he enjoys today.
Despite himself, for never Mitiku Belachew would have believed that route. To talk about his career, the Ethiopian 74 years likes to quote Gandhi: “There are a thousand lifetimes in one life. “Before becoming a renowned surgeon, Mitiku Belachew was a shepherd. Born into a family of nine children, he took care of the cows, bulls and goats in a village located 150 kilometers from Addis Ababa.
“I went to the pellet”
“I started my life with what was available,” he said. That is to say, not much: no road to move, no hospital to heal, not to school to study. Or rather one school, “that of nature.” The unexplained death of a brother “big, beautiful and strong” does change course. There will be a doctor.
At 12, he left town and flock to the benches of the school in the capital. His elephant memory allows it to skip several classes. “I was broke, so I went to the pellet: I asked a British couple to finance my education in exchange for housework,” he says. The student prodigy impresses, gets top marks and does not keep his long home boy job.
In the early 1960s, bin and bag company, it can get into the most prestigious English-speaking universities. Against all odds, he chose Belgium, he called the “land of cold sun.” “It was a country hated at the time for its work in Congo, says Mitiku. I did not speak a word of French but I loved the challenges. “The day he studied medicine at Liege. At night, he dives in the literature to improve his French and translated word for word from Marcel Pagnol Fanny with an old dictionary.
The student acclimate to the “little everyday racism” that will fade with the years and notoriety. In 1968 he is at the forefront of the “revolution” that won Belgium. But his taste for political ends when, in 1974, the Derg military regime that overthrew Haile Selassie bloodied his countrymen to justify a revolutionary ideal. It focuses on his studies and obtained his degree in 1970. In Liège and Huy, a small town of 21,000 souls, Mitiku Belachew become familiar with its specialization: digestive surgery.
“Short circuits” intestinal
It was only in 1993 that the doctor will make its revolution. Until then, and since the application of the nurse, Mitiku Belachew was making “short circuit” which consisted of intestinal exclude a portion of the intestine. “I stopped everything when I lost my first patient due to complications related to lack of follow-up,” he explains. But patients continue to press to his office, and the surgeon refuses to abandon them. It learns about other techniques emerged meanwhile as stomach stapling stapling, thus limiting the ability of the stomach. The surgeon abandons the intestine. “The technique was effective because it allowed to reduce the amount of food ingested, but the patient was unable to eat properly and could suffer from food intolerance,” he continues.
Through his research, he hears of a gastric banding invented by a Ukrainian surgeon, Dr. Kuzmak, which is up by conventional surgery. At the time, this is the beginning of laparoscopic surgery, less invasive surgical technique for performing surgery without opening the patient’s stomach.
Mitiku Belachew invented a flexible ring put around the junction between the esophagus and the stomach laparoscopically. “It was a world first since obesity was considered a cons-indication for this surgery called ‘laparoscopic’,” he says with pride
After experiments on pigs, dozens of prototypes of rings and a green light from the ethics committee, the first operation takes place in September 1993. Since then, nearly one million people worldwide were operated with this technique allows the obese patient to lose a lot of weight.
The silicone ring is exposed in a corner of the opulent residence of Mitiku Belachew in Addis Ababa. If he is happy that his invention has helped thousands of patients, it regrets that the obesity surgery has become a lucrative business. A ring costs between 4000 and 5000 dollars (between 3500 and 4400 euros). “I do not like the mercantile side of the surgery,” explains the man who refused to patent this invention to his name. But that still pretty good living to buy a castle in Belgium and more second homes in Rabat, Paris and the Dordogne.
This technique allowed him to be recognized among his peers and go around the world. He received letters by the thousands. Sometimes inflamed statements from patients. Critics also. “It is not a miraculous surgery, he said. The key to success is the support of patients. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous surgeons who are good technicians but not experts in obesity surgery, operate and then abandon them. ”
In thirty-year career, Mitiku Belachew operated 30,000 patients at the regional hospital in Huy, meanwhile become a place of excellence for obesity surgery. When he retired, he completely abandoned this specialty, but continues to operate in Addis Ababa. Today in Europe, the technique of “bypass” stomach – which is to reduce the volume of the stomach and change the food system – is more in vogue than the gastric band because the initial weight loss is stronger. But I do not mind in the least the teacher.
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If the septuagenarian regrets that these “mutilating surgeries” are back, he took a step back. The ring is part of his life, but he now prefers to focus on laparoscopic surgery, minimally invasive, he teaches students in Addis Ababa surgery. And, occasionally, he left the operating room to find his home village far from his European comfort. Where there was nothing there sixty years, he built a school and a dispensary. And tukul, a traditional hut, where, when it receives, it mentions only very rarely the ring that changed his life.