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Operation Airway

With Operation Airway, we aim to make life-changing airway reconstructive surgery and post-operative care available to all children who cannot breathe or speak on their own. We are a group of physicians from Mass. Eye and Ear and Mass General who carry out surgical procedures in the US and abroad to restore and rebuild children’s airways. We perform surgery on children who have tracheotomies due to vocal cord paralysis, subglottic stenosis, tracheal stenosis, as well as a host of congenital and acquired problems, aiming to free them of tracheotomy tubes and enable them to breathe, speak, and swallow on their own. 

While on surgical mission trips abroad, we aim to educate physicians on surgical and medical care of these complex patients. This ensures that when our mission is complete, we leave knowing the local physicians are able to provide the same care independently. 

Our team consists of pediatric otolaryngologists, anesthesiologists, pediatric intensive care unit doctors, and pediatric nurses. Our Mission Leaders are Dr. Christopher Hartnick of Mass. Eye and Ear and Dr. Phoebe Yager of Mass General.

View our 2018 El Salvador Mission Report

Questions about Operation Airway? Contact Dr. Christopher Hartnick at christopher_hartnick@meei.harvard.edu

Our work is made possible through the Operation Airway Fund. Donations are tax deductible. When submitting a donation online, please indicate in the comments field that funds should be directed to the Operation Airway Fund.

The Need

In developing countries, many indigent children born develop infections, sepsis, and pneumonia or suffer from trauma, which means they need to be intubated and on ventilators while they heal. In many cases, the breathing tubes that are available to help save their lives are too large for their airways. In addition, there are not many medicines to help sedate these children while they are intubated, so they thrash about, spit out the tubes, and need to be re-intubated. All of this movement and rubbing causes scars in these children’s airways that require many of them to have tracheostomies in their neck to allow them to breathe. 

Unfortunately, in so many of these countries, these children then remain with their tracheostomies because there are no trained surgeons available to open and rebuild their airways or remove the scars. These children often can’t speak or go to school, or in severe cases, have their trach tubes plugged due to poor (or non-existent) suction equipment, which can be life-threatening.

Operation Airway intends to bring a real solution to these children and their families.

Our Mission

The mission of Operation Airway is to help children in need breathe as “to live is to breath.” Our primary goal is to educate local healthcare teams so they develop their own sustainable programs to care for their own children. 

Our secondary goal is to work together on research to help change the way we care for children today and make it even better for tomorrow. We hope that our mission trips will represent partnerships between the in-country medical community and Operation Airway to provide high quality treatment to their children long after we have moved on to help another country.

How We Do It

Operation Airway is able to fulfill its mission by collaborating with medical practitioners in host countries. In some countries, an established or semi-established airway programs exists, and host country physicians request the participation of Operation Airway to help educate, train, and mentor their team. 

Before making a commitment to a specific country, we travel to the country to meet with medical and hospital personnel as well as local non-profits, government officials, and sometimes even the local clergy. Provided all parties agree to the goals and objectives of Heart Care International, we will commit a minimum of 3 to 5 years to provide life-saving surgical treatments, education, and training.

Our Team

Christopher Hartnick, MD
Pediatric Otolaryngologist 

Phoebe Yager, MD
Pediatric Intensive Care Unit 

Makara Cayer, MD
Pediatric Anesthesia

Nita Sahani, MD
Pediatric Anesthesia

Cheryl Hersh, CCC-SLP
Speech Pathology 

Evelyn Zablah
Director, Mission Coordination for Operation Airway

Mahek A. Shah, MD
Project Director and Senior Researcher

Kevin Callans
Nurse Case Manager

Mission Reports