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’.
Now, after qualifying as a nurse just four years ago, she has been hailed by the Prime Minister for her ‘heroic’ work in transforming care for patients suffering eating disorders.
Miss Ghebrehiwet, 45, was awarded the top prize at the Daily Mail’s Health Hero Awards last night.
She was among seven finalists nominated by Mail readers for making extraordinary sacrifices to help patients during the pandemic.
Mebrak Ghebrehiwet, 45, has been hailed by the Prime Minister for her ‘heroic’ work in transforming care for patients suffering eating disorders
Presenting the healthcare workers with their awards at Downing Street, Boris Johnson said: ‘You guys saved my life and you 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 single worker in the NHS.
‘There is no doubt that these heroes saved my life, along with thousands of others, and they did so at enormous personal sacrifice without hesitancy.’
The Mail’s Health Hero Awards, sponsored by eBay, were launched in 2013 to honour unsung heroes in healthcare.
Miss Ghebrehiwet was awarded the top prize at the Daily Mail’s Health Hero Awards last night
The mother-of-one was among seven finalists nominated by Mail readers for making extraordinary sacrifices to help patients during the pandemic
Miss Ghebrehiwet, whose native Eritrea fought for independence from Ethiopia for decades, said she was ‘absolutely gobsmacked and overwhelmed’ to win the top prize and hoped it would shine a spotlight on the efforts of staff working in mental health wards.
The mother-of-one said: ‘I arrived in the UK from Eritrea at the age of 14 not speaking any English.
‘I felt extremely alone and I am aware of what it’s like to feel an outcast or to think that nobody understands you.
‘There were times where I really struggled and those years made me aware of mental health issues.’
The nurse worked her days off throughout the pandemic to ensure the specialist eating disorder ward at St Ann’s Hospital in Tottenham, north London, remained open while many others had to close due to staff shortages.
She was nominated for her heroic work in devising ways of minimising the use of forcible restraint on patients.
Most are young girls with illnesses such as anorexia.
Restraint is a last resort in the treatment of eating disorders and involves feeding patients through a plastic tube inserted through the nostril into their stomach.
The process can be a traumatic experience.
Her thoughtful initiatives, such as printing off menus in advance to help reduce patients’ anxiety around food, led to a dramatic fall in the use of restraint methods on the ward.
Many patients and their families singled out Miss Ghebrehiwet for her acts of compassion, which included spending her own money to buy them books or soft toys.
Even after finishing exhausting days at work she would always put others first, with acts such as doing shopping for vulnerable neighbours during the pandemic.
Miss Ghebrehiwet, who has won a £5,000 luxury holiday, said she hoped to visit Peru with her son Akeem, 27.
Ellie Orton OBE, chief executive of NHS Charities Together, said: ‘The people of the NHS are its beating heart and their efforts to care for us are something to be truly celebrated. Every day in the UK there are doctors, nurses, porters and paramedics – people from all walks of life – working 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.
‘Every single one of these finalists has changed people’s lives – and if that doesn’t make a hero, I don’t know what does.’