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Mosul: “From his whole family, he is the only one left”

23 Mar 2017

On February 19, Médecins Sans Frontières opened a field trauma hospital with surgical capacity in a village to the south of Mosul. The team is composed primarily of Iraqi surgeons, doctors and nurses. Below are two testimonies from Médecins Sans Frontières surgeons working in the field trauma centre. 

Testimony from Dr Reginald, a 66-year-old Belgian surgeon, describing his 6 weeks near Mosul as the toughest situation he has experienced during his long Médecins Sans Frontières career:

“I’ve been through many other wars; Syria, Liberia, Angola, Cambodia, but I’ve never seen something like this. In the operating theatre every case we receive is severe and almost every day we have to deal with mass casualties. Our patients can be of any age, any gender and suffering from any sort of war wound: sniper attack, mortar shelling, airstrike, landmine, and other explosions. They are all putting their life at risk to flee a city under siege. When weather conditions are good we receive huge influxes of wounded men, women and children. When it’s cloudy or rainy we receive less people. Now, we look at weather forecast to best prepare ourselves and to anticipate mass casualties. 

"Our patients can be of any age, any gender and suffering from any sort of war wound: sniper attack, mortar shelling, airstrike, landmine, and other explosions"

On one sunny afternoon, the ambulances started to arrive, one after the other. Usually the stabilisation posts close to the fighting alert us when they are referring stabilised patients to our centre. But that day, due to the chaos, it didn’t happen. It was tough and at the end we had received around 100 patients. That day confirmed that our surgical unit was a frontline surgical facility and we have since opened a second operating theatre to increase our capacity. As I finish my 6 week assignment, I’m shocked by the number of families dismembered by this war. By the number of mothers and fathers that begged us to save their son or daughter as they were the only family members left alive. I’m impressed by the strength of the Iraqi people and by the generosity and hard work of our Iraqi colleagues. We could do none of this work without them”

Testimony from Dr Ahmed*, an Iraqi orthopaedic surgeon who has worked for Médecins Sans Frontières since 2008 and has been working in our field trauma hospital since mid-February 2017:

“Yesterday morning we received a family of four: a mother, a father and their two small boys. They had all been wounded by a mortar grenade. The mother and father arrived dead so we worked around the clock on the two brothers. But the head wound of the smallest boy was too severe so he passed away and we only managed to save the nine-year-old. I wonder how he could survive and how he will survive. From his whole family, he is the only one left. Then, yesterday afternoon we received another boy, this time a ten-year-old. He arrived with his left leg almost amputated by a mortar shelling. We went straight into the operating theatre but he lost a lot of blood on the way to our hospital. For two hours we did orthopaedic surgery, then my colleague did a laparotomy for another hour but during the night he died. 

"We try to do everything we can, but sometimes it’s not enough"

We try to do everything we can, but sometimes it’s not enough. If I could, I would take a picture for each of the patients I treated to tell their stories and to remember them. Here I operate only on severe cases but I would like to do more. I’d also like to follow the ones we refer to other facilities. I would like to take care of all of them, to do all I can to help these people who have been through such terrible suffering.”

* Name has been changed


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