A private health clinic in Romania provides free of charge surgery for low-income patients
In Romania there is a private health clinic where doctors provide free of charge surgery for low-income patients. Two years ago, they started an association called “Zetta”, and ever since, a growing number of patients in difficult financial situations have been coming for help here, particularly for plastic surgery and reconstructive microsurgery.
The founder of the association is doctor Dragos Zamfirescu, a plastic and reconstructive surgery specialist with over 20 years of experience and with scores of innovations in the field of surgery, some of them rewarded with gold medals in Brussels. Alongside 10 other physicians, he is part of a team that has saved many people in need.
Although initially the doctors had decided to conduct 50 operations per year free of charge, in 2018 they reached this goal in only 5 months. By the end of the year, they had already performed free surgery in 125 cases. This year was equally successful, with the team doing twice as many operations as they had originally planned.
Dr. Dragos Zamfirescu: “What I like is to operate, not to talk or brag about it. Basically, for one and a half months the clinic only performed pro bono surgery, which I think is something unheard of anywhere in the world. As for myself, one-quarter of my time, that is 3 months a year, I’ve been working for this cause alone. We are a handful of doctors who perform operations that are not possible in any other centres in Romania, and in some cases we are the patients’ last hope. And to turn down a patient only because they can’t afford to cover the costs of surgery in a private clinic is something I’ve never thought acceptable. I founded this association at the suggestion of my accountants, in order to be able to accept donations to cover the costs of these operations which are by no means easy. We looked at the average salary in Romania, at the average monthly spending figures in Romania, and we came up with 2 categories of patients. We have average-income patients who can afford some procedures and who only pay for the materials used for surgery. And we have people with less than 500 euros a month in net wages, who may receive surgery free of charge. Basically, anyone who earns a barely decent amount, not very little, may benefit from our services.”
Andreea Marin is one of the TV celebrities in Romania who got involved in the project and launched a campaign which is a novelty in Romania. Called “Help us to help!”, the campaign aims to raise funds to cover the costs of the materials used in the free of charge operations.
Andreea Marin: “One year ago, the idea of this campaign was born in a conversation I had with Dr. Dragos Zamfirescu, who was my doctor at the time. While I was in his clinic I learned about these people who had operations free of charge, and many of them were rather complicated cases. There were burn victims, people with injuries caused by accidents and who had to have their limbs amputated, there were cancer patients who needed reconstructive surgery, there were children and adults with malformations, really difficult operations that were being done pro bono by these doctors. I asked about it and Dr. Zamfirescu told me that he was trying not to turn down any patients, if possible. But the materials used in surgery cost thousands of euros, the cost for each operation is about 3.5 euros per minute and some operations may take as many as 12 hours, not to mention that a patient may require successive reconstructive operations over a period of time, in order to get to the desired state. So these doctors were trying to cover these costs from their own incomes and make sure the patients did not have to pay for anything. This is how this campaign started. Today, there are thousands of Romanians, including Romanian nationals who live abroad, who make donations to this association.”
Last autumn, Zetta Association organized the second edition of the “Zetta Help us to help” charity gala, an event that rewards and encourages social responsibility and which its initiators would like to turn into a tradition in Romania. This is where we met Magda Coman, the initiator of a movement called “Atypical Beauty”:
Magda Coman: “I have been in this wheelchair since 2005. It was an unfortunate accident, but I prefer to think of this as my destiny and I think that maybe this way I can be more useful to those who need my help. I am the president of an association called Open Your Heart, which organises the Atypical Beauty event, and I am taking part in this Gala because Zetta Clinic offered free surgery to wheelchair users who are role models for other people. So I came here to thank these wonderful doctors who offer free operations to wheelchair people.”
Monica Radu is 44. She was a literature freshman with the University of Bucharest when she suffered a spine fracture in a car crash. She has been bound to a wheelchair for 22 years. But even so, she moved on with her life, she is a writer and has 3 children. She has recently had surgery for an infected deep wound:
Monica Radu: “I had the chance to find out about the interventions performed at Zetta Clinic and about the programme that Zetta Association is implementing right at a very difficult time for me, health-wise. I was on the verge of sepsis, and when the doctors saw what was happening they brought me for surgery the very next day. I needed a procedure that is specific for plastic surgery, that can only be performed in a plastic surgery clinic, but it is a very expensive type of surgery. So this programme was an extraordinary chance for me, it was great to hear about it exactly when I needed it the most, and it was amazing for me to be accepted in this programme. I am no stranger to hospitals, I’ve been in a wheelchair for 22 years but I’d never heard of anything like this. The sense of confidence and safety and kindness that I found at Zetta Clinic is something I have never encountered before.”
The “Help us to help” campaign will go on in 2020 as well.
(translated by: Ana-Maria Popescu)