Dr Andrew Walker’s musings from Mosul

Dr Andrew Walker of Aspen Medical meeting with members of the clinical team in Mosul

Dr Andrew Walker (with hat) meets with members of the Aspen Medical and Iraqi teams in Mosul

I visited the field hospitals in Mosul, Northern Iraq, in late April 2017.

As I approached the field hospital my first thoughts were that putting a field hospital inside a defunct cement factory was always going to be a challenge and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. To put it mildly, the World Health Organization (WHO) have done an incredible job.  The facility is safe and secure and fully functional albeit minimalist.

What that facility lacks in the latest state-of-the-art technology is made up for by the superb skills of the entire team – both Aspen Medical health professionals and hospital management and the Iraqi clinical staff.  I was bowled over by the amazing work these brave and committed professionals and doing day-in day-out under very difficult conditions for the people of Mosul.

Over the course of my visit I was extremely impressed by the Iraqi team.  They seemed to particularly like working alongside the Aspen Medical team.  They saw it as a chance to enhance their skills, especially their administration, team building and organisational skills.

The bulk of the work in the trauma hospitals were the result of bullet wounds and explosions from IEDs. Unfortunately, too many children were coming through our doors with bullet wounds and burns. It was really heart breaking.  The main reason that women and children are coming into the trauma hospitals is that the bulk of the able bodied men had already either been killed or “recruited” by ISIS. That left mainly women and children as targets. Also, ISIS has been using the civilians as human shields which has obviously led to this kind of collateral damage.

The most heartbreaking thing I saw was a group of children playing happily by the side of the road- running out to greet our convoy with the anti-ISIS “V” finger salute.  Their homes completely bombed out.  The contrast between the devastation that ISIS had wrought on the village and their indefatigable spirit broke my heart. Why should any child have to go through this?

In the midst of the devastation, pain and heartbreak you always find stories that lift your heart.  One such story was recanted to me by a member of the Aspen Medical team.  She told me that one of our earliest patients was a heavily pregnant woman. She had been hiding for months from ISIS. As she was nearing term she decided to try and get help. As she left her shelter/hide-out she was shot in the abdomen by an ISIS sniper. She was picked up and then rushed to our trauma hospital. There it was ascertained that the bullet had also hit the foetus in the arm. The mother was stabilised and then operated on to save her life. She also underwent an emergency C-section where the baby was delivered and then operated on to treat his bullet wound. Both mother and baby were saved and are doing well!

There will be more heartbreak and suffering in Mosul, we know that. But through the dedication, determination and skill of the Aspen Medical and Iraqi teams we will play our part in helping he people of Mosul to recover.