War-torn Eritrean nurse wins top prize at annual Health Hero Awards

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Arriving in the UK from war-torn Eritrea at the age of 14, Mebrak Ghebrehiwet was unable to speak English and often felt like an ‘outcast’.

Today, after graduating as a nurse just four years ago, she has been hailed by the Prime Minister for her “heroic” work in transforming the care of eating disorder patients.

Miss Ghebrehiwet, 45, received the top prize last night at the Daily Mail’s Health Hero Awards.

She was one of seven finalists named by Mail readers for making extraordinary sacrifices to help patients during the pandemic.

Mebrak Ghebrehiwet, 45, hailed by the Prime Minister for his ‘heroic’ work in transforming the care of patients with eating disorders

Presenting their awards to healthcare workers in Downing Street, Boris Johnson said: “You saved my life and got the whole country back on its feet.”

The Prime Minister, who was admitted to intensive care with Covid last year before recovering, said the past 18 months had been “a truly exhausting and tragic time for the country”.

He added: “On behalf of the government, thank you for what you have done and congratulations to the Daily Mail for this initiative. I am incredibly proud of every NHS worker.

“There is no doubt that these heroes saved my life, and thousands of others, and they did so at great personal sacrifice without hesitation.”

The Mail’s Health Hero Awards, sponsored by eBay, were launched in 2013 to honor unsung health heroes.

Miss Ghebrehiwet received the top prize at the Daily Mail's Health Hero Awards last night

Miss Ghebrehiwet received the top prize at the Daily Mail’s Health Hero Awards last night

Mother-of-one was among seven finalists named by Mail readers for making extraordinary sacrifices to help patients during pandemic

Mother-of-one was among seven finalists named by Mail readers for making extraordinary sacrifices to help patients during pandemic

Miss Ghebrehiwet, whose native Eritrea fought for Ethiopia’s independence for decades, said she was “absolutely stunned and overwhelmed” to win the top prize and hoped it would highlight the efforts staff working in mental health services.

The mother of one said: “I came to the UK from Eritrea at the age of 14, not speaking English.

“I felt extremely lonely and I am aware of what it is like to feel left out or to think that no one understands you.

“There were times when I really struggled and those years made me aware of mental health issues.”

The nurse has been working her days off throughout the pandemic to ensure the eating disorder department at St Ann’s Hospital in Tottenham, north London, remains open while many others had to close due to a staff shortage.

She was nominated for her heroic work in devising ways to minimize the use of forced coercion on patients.

Most are young girls with diseases such as anorexia.

Restraint is a last resort in the treatment of eating disorders and involves feeding patients using a plastic tube inserted through the nostril into their stomachs.

The process can be a traumatic experience.

His thoughtful initiatives, such as printing menus in advance to help reduce patients’ anxiety about food, have led to a dramatic decline in the use of restraint methods in the ward.

Many patients and their families have recognized Miss Ghebrehiwet for her acts of compassion, including spending her own money to buy them books or stuffed animals.

Even after finishing exhausting days at work, she still put others first, with acts such as shopping for vulnerable neighbors during the pandemic.

Miss Ghebrehiwet, who won a £ 5,000 luxury vacation, said she hopes to visit Peru with her son Akeem, 27.

Ellie Orton OBE, Managing Director of NHS Charities Together, said: “The people of the NHS are her beating heart and their efforts to take care of us is something to really celebrate. Every day in the UK, doctors, nurses, porters and paramedics – people from all walks of life – work tirelessly to keep us safe and healthy.

“The Health Hero Awards are so important because they give us a chance to give back to our healthcare professionals and show exactly how grateful we are to them.

“Each of these finalists changed people’s lives – and if that doesn’t make a hero, I don’t know what does.”

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