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

Friday - - Society -

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

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