A SYRIAN doctor at the Royal Bolton Hospital regularly visits his country to help victims of the civil war. He tells of the horrors he sees and the help he is able to give
WHEN a father came to Dr Mounir Hakimi carrying his horrifically wounded five-year-old daughter and asking for help, there was little he could do.
The image of the little girl — who had been fatally wounded in a cluster bomb attack in Syria, and who was a similar age to his own two young children — will forever haunt Dr Hakimi, a registrar at the Royal Bolton Hospital.
He was unable to help her.
But thanks to Dr Hakimi, hundreds of other Syrian civilians have lived.
In the last eight months, he has travelled to the war-torn country five times for several weeks at a time, performing operations, delivering medical supplies and giving the short-staffed doctors in Syria a much-needed break.
“I am there as a humanitarian person to help people. I am not on either side of the politics, I am on the side where people need the help,” he said.
The 37-year-old, who was born in the UK but brought up in Homs, in Syria, has lived in the UK since 2003, in Sale with his wife, Razan, and two young children.
When the Syrian conflict began, Dr Hakimi was contacted by friends desperate formedical supplies to help those injured by the fighting.
With five other UK doctors and two businessmen, Dr Hakimi founded Syria Relief in September, 2011, as a non-political and non-religious charity to raise money to help those affected.
So far, Syria Relief has raised £2.6 million through fundraisers and donations.
After the conflict escalated, Dr Hakimi, who has lost close friends in the violence and has family still living in Syria, decided sending medical aid alone was not enough and, last September, travelled to the country to help.
He said: “It is painful and sad to see my own country being destroyed. When you see pictures and videos, it is not as effective as when you go and see it in the flesh. It is heart-breaking. I was in the hospital and there was a bomb dropped on a building full of women and children.
“There were more than 30 casualties and most were children.
“A dad brought me his five-year-old girl and she had an open chest, her heart and her lungs were sticking out. It is hard and the more you go there, the more you see, especially the children.
“I don’t understand why the children are being targeted by snipers in their chest and their head.”
The doctors from Syria Relief travel to the country on a rota basis and usually go to a hospital near the border with Turkey where they are most needed.
Dr Hakimi, who pays for his own travel, has also worked in Aleppo, Idleb and Homs and said the working conditions are terrible.
He said: “There is a shortage of everything. One day I had to fix a broken hand for a lady and we didn’t have the right instrument so I had to use wire and the plastic cover from a needle as a splint.
“You have to think outside the box to cope with things.
“Sometimes the X-ray machines are broken so you have to provide surgery blindly, without doing an X-ray.
“There is no electricity, so the power is provided by a generator.
“When the generators broke down we had to perform the surgery with a torch strapped to my head — we were taking a bullet out of a hand.”
There is a shortage of doctors in Syria and, when he visits, Dr Hakimi will often help train medical students and provide relief for medical staff.
He said: “When I last went, there was a doctor who had been in the hospital for two months without a break. He was eating and sleeping there.
“As soon as I arrived at the hospital, they sent him home to rest. He had not seen his family for two months. Because I worked there for one week, he was able to go home.”
Dr Hakimi said a shortage of everyday medicine was also causing problems and he had treated a diabetic man who had lost his leg because he could not access insulin.
He said there were no resources or clinics for the elderly, for children, for cancer patients and for people with long-term conditions.
Syria Relief has funded a dialysis unit in Aleppo, which treats 400 people per month. Without this, Dr Hakimi said, the patients would die.
While he is away, Dr Hakimi stays in close contact with his wife and says she worries.
But he said as long as people still need help, he will continue to travel to Syria to care for the victims of the conflict.
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