Doc­tor’s mobile ges­ture

AF­TER FLEE­ING IRAQ, DOC­TOR LEADS WORLD IN FIELD

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - Front Page - Pia van Straalen @piathe­p­ress

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

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