Internationally renowned Australian plastic surgeon, Dr John Greenwood, who flew to Greece to assist fellow surgeons in treating victims of the tragic fires in Attica, has recently returned to Australia and shared his experience at a fundraising event hosted by the Cypriot Community of SA in conjunction with the Australian Hellenic Medical Charity Inc. (AHMCI).
“It was a tragic time for Greece. As I was watching the news, the story that really got me was the story of the 23 people that huddled together on top of the hill only metres from the sea, all holding each other. That’s when I decided to offer my services,” said Dr Greenwood.
The devastating fires, which broke out on 23 July claimed the lives of 99 people whilst hundreds were injured in what has been described as one of the nation’s worst disasters in recent memory. Dr Greenwood put the wheels in motion by contacting a UK-based colleague and close friend that was connected with several plastic and burn surgeons in Greece.
“I started to offer my help knowing that I only needed one doctor to say ‘it will be really nice if you came, there are things you can do’,” said the surgeon.
And that’s exactly the response Dr Greenwood’s received, his offer accepted just two days later. He arrived in Greece on Saturday 28 July and was welcomed by colleague Dr Dimitrios Krikonis, who he has dubbed the “true hero of this drama”.
“Please keep in mind that I did nothing compared to that man. I am not the hero of this story by any stretch of the imagination. These patients were his patients, in his unit, at the Thriasio Hospital Burns Clinic, and it was all his work,” said Dr Greenwood.
During his hospital visits, the Australian surgeon was given the opportunity to demonstrate his methods on Greek patients using a biodegradable skin graft substitute, which assists with the prevention of blood loss, thus making the recovery process easier for the patient.
“The team was extremely receptive on taking on board some of these suggestions, but at the same time, some of those machines were not in great condition for us to continue with the work.”
After a few days of treating burn victims, the former South Australian of the Year was in desperate need of additional skin harvesting equipment and reached out to Natalia Adanichkin, Advanced Nurse Unit Manager at the Adult Burns Centre at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH).
“Natalia is the second hero of this story. She was the one that worked for two days tirelessly with the groups and suppliers we use at RAH to source and supply the products we needed. Unfortunately, the company wouldn’t allow the release of the equipment unless they had a guarantee of payment and that’s all I did. I put it all on my credit card just to bring it to Greece,” reveals Dr Greenwood.
Natalia also contacted a small group of Greek Australians in Adelaide who offered to raise the funds needed to purchase the equipment. Accountant Bill Pitsadiotis and President of the Pan-Laconic Association in SA, Dina Housou led the team that managed to collate the funds within just a few hours.
“We developed really good relationships with the Greek members of the community who helped us purchase the equipment and also the staff in the Thriasio Hospital Burns Unit. We all worked towards the same objective: to save people’s lives,” says Natalia, who arrived in Athens on 6 August to assist Dr Greenwood.
“It was just heartbreaking to see so many people, the majority being the elderly and women, all burnt so severely. I will never forget the courage of those patients. It reminded me of the bravery and courage of the Greeks I read in myths, but the worst thing is that those injuries will continue for months and not for only as long as the cameras are rolling. It is for this reason we need to supply equipment to this unit for the future and hopefully forever,” added Dr Greenwood.
The fundraising event held on Friday 14 September at the Cypriot Community of SA raised a further $73,500.
“I am extremely proud of the way the AHMCI board managed to unite varying Hellenic organisations from all sides of the spectrum to achieve one goal,” said AHMCI President, Kostas Barkoukis.
“It is amazing to see South Australians leading the way, especially when it comes to supporting the Hellenic Republic in a time of need and we are very honoured to have Dr Greenwood supporting us and Dr Krikonis who travelled from Greece to honour and thank the Greek community for their support in person.
“AHMCI will continue to work for the struggling people and hospitals in Greece. We have been offered the opportunity to live in a fantastic, prosperous nation such as Australia. It is our duty to help the Hellenic Republic.”