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US surgeon in Gaza says nothing prepared him for scale of injuries

May 1, 2024 at 1:27 pm

Wounded Palestinians are brought to al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital after Israeli attack hit Nuseirat Refugee Camp as Israeli attacks continue on Gaza [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

A US vascular surgeon who left Gaza after a stint as a volunteer said on Wednesday that nothing had prepared him for the scale of injuries that he faced there. Dozens of patients a day. Most of them young. Most facing complicated injuries caused by shrapnel. Most ending up with amputations.

“Vascular surgery is really a disease for older patients and I would say I had never operated on anybody younger than 16, and that was the majority of patients that we did this time around,” Shariq Sayeed, from Atlanta, Georgia, told Reuters in Cairo. “Most were patients 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 years of age. Mostly shrapnel wounds, and that was something I have never dealt with, that was something new.”

In his stint at the European Hospital in Gaza, Sayeed said that his team would deal with 40-60 patients a day. The vast majority were amputation cases.

“And, unfortunately, there is a very high incidence of infection as well so once you have an amputation that doesn’t heal, you end up getting a higher amputation,” he explained.

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Around 70 per cent of the operations he performed were on injuries caused by shrapnel, the rest mostly from blast injuries and collapsing buildings.

Ismail Mehr, an anaesthesiologist from New York State, who led the Gaza mission, said that the volunteer medics were “speechless” at what they saw when they arrived in southern Gaza early last month.

Mehr is chairman of IMANA Medical Relief, a programme that focuses on disaster medical relief and healthcare support which has provided treatment to over 2.5 million patients in 34 countries and counting. He has been to Gaza several times in the past, but could not imagine what he saw this time: “Truly, everywhere I saw was destruction in Khan Younis, not a single building standing.”

Out of 36 hospitals that used to serve more than two million residents, just 10 were somewhat functional by early April, according to the World Health Organisation.

Health facilities lack medical supplies, equipment, staff and power supplies, said Mehr. His biggest fear now is an expected Israeli assault on the southern city of Rafah, where half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought shelter.

“I hope and I pray that Rafah is not attacked,” he added. “The health system will not be able to take care of that. It will be a complete catastrophe.”

READ: Injured Palestinians have nowhere to seek medical care in Gaza City