A trauma surgeon in Manchester is bringing his experience as a field surgeon during Syria’s brutal civil war to support patients at the city’s Major Trauma unit.
Dr Ayman Alshiekh graduated from the University of Aleppo in 2010 and started his training in vascular surgery in Damascus. Unfortunately, he had to leave his studies in the middle of his third year due to the escalation of the Syrian civil war and went straight into work as a war surgeon in a field hospital.
He said: “Our hospitals were always a magnet for attacks. We were attacked by missiles, by bombs, simply because we were treating casualties. That was considered a crime by the regime.
“Imagine yourself operating on a patient when you are being attacked by barrel bombs and missiles. Your hands are shaking, the hospital is shaking, soil could go in the patient’s wounds while you are operating and then you have to wait a while until the strike stops and carry on.
“Due to the siege, no medical supplies could get into Aleppo. We had to make do with what we had. When you are a war surgeon in Aleppo, the most important thing is saving lives. Everything else comes second.”
As the conflict escalated, Dr Alshiekh became increasingly worried for the safety of his family and managed to get them asylum in Turkey while he continued to save lives in Syria.
“When the barrel bombs started to fall over us in 2014, I was already working in a field hospital and I couldn’t concentrate on treating people because I was always thinking about my family. When I moved them to Turkey, I could at least concentrate on my job.”
Eventually though, Ayman himself departed the conflict to seek refuge and leave to remain in the UK. He arrived at the end of 2018 with little money and very few possessions.
Despite his years in the field, Ayman had to regain his qualifications to practice in the UK. After he passed his exams, and was registered with the GMC, he managed to secure a role at Manchester Royal Infirmary where he now works as Senior Clinical Fellow in vascular surgery which is a core specialty in the hospital’s Major Trauma service”.
The Major Trauma service deals with some of the most complex patients and emergences for both adults and children in designated major trauma wards.
Supported by the hospital’s helipad, emergency patients are treated 24/7 by specialist multi-discipline teams who provide emergency care to patients who’re involved in a variety of life-threatening incidents.
The Major Trauma service provides holistic card to patients with physiotherapy and psychological support offered to all major trauma patients who may have endured life changing injuries.
Ayman added: “Working here in a safe environment and operating on patients without war raging outside – it’s completely different.
“I’m planning to apply what I learned as a field surgeon, especially in trauma, here and this can help my colleagues and I can learn from them on subjects I lack as well, which is really great. All the consultants, my colleagues, and the nurses, make you feel like we are a family, we are a team.”
While the majority of Ayman’s family have settled in Turkey, Ayman was able to bring his wife and children over to live with him in Manchester.
“They’re amazing” he said. “Three years in and their English is better than mine. They’re little Mancunian kids!
“If the situation was different, I would not have left Syria. I would have seen it as my duty to stay. But when you have kids, you need to think about their future. I thought – if I die, who will look after my kids?”
Professor Jane Eddleston, Joint Group Medical Director at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, said:
“I cannot begin to imagine the horrors Ayman must have seen during his time helping patients on the front line in Syria, and it’s wonderful that he and his family have found a home in Manchester.
“We are very fortunate to have a colleague of his experience and mental fortitude within our Major Trauma services supporting critically ill patients in Manchester.”
One day in the future, Ayman hopes to return to his homeland. He said: “I want to help my people there and help rebuild our health system from everything I have learned here.”
Watch the video below to learn more about Ayman Alshiekh’s experiences in an interview with Miss Toli Onon, Group Joint Medical Director