Doctor’s mobile gesture
AFTER FLEEING IRAQ, DOCTOR LEADS WORLD IN FIELD
MUNJED Al Muderis says he is a man of his word; to him medicine is not a business, it is strictly for the betterment of others.
The Sydney-based orthopedic surgeon fled Iraq in 1999 after refusing to surgically mutilate a defected soldier on the orders of Saddam Hussein
He is now a world leader in working with amputees and osseointegration technology, which has changed the life of people living without limbs, including local man Kelvin Cook.
He said he was inspired to help amputees after seeing how they burdened their families in Iraq, but also after seeing The Terminator as a 12-year-old and wanting to make cyborgs.
“I thought The Terminator was cool,” he said.
Dr Al Muderis travelled to Germany to learn about the practice of osseointegration before returning to Australia and complet- ing his first surgery on Paralympian Brendan Burkett. Today he leads the world and Germans come to him for guidance.
“The technology is developed from a tooth implant… adapted for legs and arms,” he said.
“It's an engineering task and there are different generations and they are all my designs.
“It's progressing very well and the principle is proven, and now it's about working in progress.”
He said the traditional socket was unfair on amputees.
“I don't think it's fair that people walk with a wooden carved socket; it was invented in 1525 by Andreas Vesalius and it hasn't been changed much since; for six centuries it didn't change but 30 years ago it changed from wood to plastic,” he said.
“An amputee needs to think about the simplest route, they have to think about whether places have ramps, but with osseointegration they don't need to think about that; (they) can walk more than 10km straight, but with a socket (some people) can (only) walk 200m.
“Mobility is a very important thing; we don't feel it because we are mobile, we don't think about it because we are mobile.”
Dr Al Muderis has completed 187 surgeries so far, including on British soldiers and Cambodian amputees.
“It's a complete transformation; it's not about the journey, it's about the destination,” he said.
In just two weeks, Dr Al Muderis went from a promising surgical resident in Baghdad to number 982 at Curtin Detention Centre.
In 1999, the orthopedic surgeon made a life-changing decision to flee Iraq after refusing an order from Saddam Hussein.
“Up until that moment I never thought I’d leave Iraq and I was happy where I was; I was living comfortably and my family was very well off,” he said. “But that moment changed everything and a decision was made instantly; I had to leave Iraq all of a sudden.”
With the help of his family, Dr Al Muderis was smug- gled to Iraq’s western border and crossed to Jordan before heading to Malaysia and then Indonesia, where he boarded a boat for Christmas Island.
The standing-room only boat was intercepted 36 hours later and he and the “slice of society” were taken to Curtin Detention Centre.
He had 982 stamped on his arm, and for the next 10 months it was his name; an act he called dehumanising.
“At one point there were 1552 people inside the detention centre; 13 doctors among us and now 12 of us are fully qualified specialists serving in Australia,” he said.
“But by the same token, 117 children were unaccompanied minors. After 7pm, these children are locked with adults without supervision. I interpreted for two incidents of sexual assaults.”
After he leaked photos to the Australian media, he became known as an agitator.
“I spent 40 days in a box, a lot of time in jail because I was very outspoken and a sympathiser smuggled a camera to me; I was singled out as a trouble maker,” he said.
“I spent five days in the box, 1.5m x 2m, there was an airconditioner, no windows, a small hole and a purple fluorescent light, a mattress on the floor with no pillows and no blanket; I was locked for long hours inside.
“I just sat there, I played chess (in my head), I was thinking of writing a book, thinking about a lot of things… it was torturous.”
He was released 10 months later and lived on social security for two weeks before picking up where he left off in Baghdad, seeking his qualifications to work as a surgeon.
“I feel bad that Baghdad is the way it is now; in hindsight Iraq was better off with Saddam, but Australia is my home (now),” he said.
Dr Munjed Al Muderis