Saving limbs – and lives
When a natural disaster occurs anywhere in the world, one of the first doctors to rush to the scene is Dr Waseem Saeed. The plastic surgeon has been responsible for saving the limbs of hundreds of children who would otherwise have had to undergo amputatio
The sight was shocking: Dianne, a seven-year-old girl, was crying out for help standing amid the death and destruction the earthquake in Haiti had left behind. After managing to crawl out from the debris of her collapsed school in the capital Port-au-Prince, the little girl, tears silently falling down her face, was clutching her left hand, which was almost severed, and pleading for help to the international medical team that had set up camp outside.
“Apparently when the roof caved in, a steel girder crushed her arm after she fell while attempting to flee the shaking building,’’ says DrWaseem Saeed, a UK-based plastic and reconstructive surgeon who had rushed to the aid of the victims of the disaster with a small team of medics.
“The first thing that struck me when I landed in Haiti that day in 2010 was the magnitude of death and destruction everywhere,’’ he says. “A few metres from where we had set up a tent lay the flattened remains of a school. There were scores of bodies of children and teachers still unrecovered in the playground.
“But what made us gasp was this little girl who walked up to us cradling her arm, which was dangling from her body by just a few strands of tissue. She just stared at us, without much hope.’’
Lucky to have escaped with her life, Dianne stood forlorn and silently sobbing in front of the makeshift hospital that had been erected hurriedly on a tennis court.
Waseem, 49, and father of four daughters immediately took Dianne into the tent and began surgery to save her hand. “Pus was beginning to develop and there was danger of infection,” he says.
It took three gruelling operations in the hot and humid tent beforeWaseem and a small team of medics could restore soft tissue, bone and finally nerves to her injured hand.
Eight hours later, the surgery was finished – they had saved the little girl’s hand. “If we hadn’t operated immediately, she would have most likely lost her hand,” saysWaseem. “But by the time we left three weeks later, Dianne was running around happily kicking a football and her hand was healing nicely.”
A time of urgent need
That wasn’t the first time thatWaseem had rushed to help victims of natural disasters. A regular volunteer for UK-Med and Merlin – charities that arrange to fly volunteer health workers from the UK to areas where urgent medical aid is required – among others, Waseem has witnessed some of the most terrifying natural disasters in the world.
When shocking images of the massive earthquake that devastated Northern Pakistan in 2005 hit television screens, the world looked on in sheer horror. Within minutes around 100,000 people had lost their lives, and an estimated 130,000 were injured in a desperately poor area with little infrastructure.
Thousands of miles away in Britain, Waseem was watching a news report. “You cannot put dollars on wounds,’’ a local surgeon was telling the news anchor, referring to the financial aid that some countries were offering. “We need doctors desperately.’’
When the doctor explained that he had already amputated around 100 limbs, Waseem, a surgeon at BMI Alexandra Hospital in Manchester and Spire Manchester Hospital, knew he had to help. “My first thought was to reach the disaster area and do whatever I could to help those affected,’’ he says.
Getting together a team from the UK that included Dr Amjad Mohammad, consultant