On the front lines

May 1, 2017

Dr. Jeffrey Way and colleagues performing surgery in Mosul, Iraq

Dr. Jeffrey Way, a Calgary trauma surgeon, travels to Iraq to care for people living amidst the horrors of war.

Most of the people there don’t want to be involved in the fighting. They just want to raise their families and live their lives. There’s a huge humanitarian crisis out there, and if we have the power to help, we need to do what we can.

- Dr. Jeffrey Way

Mosul, a large city in northern Iraq, is caught in an ongoing, bloody battle between the Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants. Dr. Jeffrey WayThe human toll has been devastating and has created a desperate need for medical and humanitarian aid. Dr. Jeffrey Way, a Calgary trauma surgeon, recently travelled to the area as part of a Samaritan’s Purse mission to help meet that need.

“I’ve done previous missions with Samaritan’s Purse, including to Haiti to deal with a cholera outbreak,” explains Dr. Way. “They had acquired an emergency field hospital that they wanted to set up near Mosul to deal with the injured and they contacted me.”

Although he was prepared to deal with the types of serious injuries you would expect in an active war zone, he was still taken aback by the brutality of the injuries. “We were dealing with people who were mortally wounded. Landmines, drone attacks, rockets and sniper fire were common and that resulted in a lot of severe head and neck trauma, open chest and abdominal wounds and amputations. And many of those patients were children.”

Dr. Jeffrey Way and his daughter, ICU nurse Emily WayThe field hospital was the only facility in the active war zone and was equipped with two operating rooms, but was without many of the resources Dr. Way would have at home. “One of the biggest issues is that we didn’t have narcotics, so pain management was difficult. But the patients were so happy to be alive, and so grateful that we were there, they really didn’t complain.”

Dr. Way’s daughter Emily, an ICU nurse based in Red Deer, joined him on the three-week mission, which made the work additionally rewarding.

Dr. Way and his daughter were grateful for the opportunity to help and were both surprised at how much they were able to do. “Here we were, in this field hospital, in the middle of nowhere, looking after trauma-after- trauma, and it was amazing how well it worked.”

“We never felt that we were in danger while we were in the hospital because it was so heavily guarded. The only time we felt any fear was in transit to the airport.”

Dr. Jeffrey WaySamaritan’s Purse will keep the hospital open until the end of June, with the goal of leaving it behind for ongoing use. Dr. Way and the other physicians on the mission spent time training locals so that they will be ready to take over the facility when the time comes. In the meantime, the organization welcomes donations and volunteers – medical and otherwise – who can help them continue their work.

“Most of the people there don’t want to be involved in the fighting,” says Dr. Way. “They just want to raise their families and live their lives. There’s a huge humanitarian crisis out there, and if we have the power to help, we need to do what we can.”

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