I am inspired by doctors who are caring for patients in need, especially in conflict areas. These men and women have the means to escape violence, but see it as their moral duty to remain in their country and treat their countrymen. They put their lives in danger every day. Due to the recent tragedy at a military hospital in Afghanistan, I want to highlight some of my friends who partner with SIGN Fracture Care International in Afghanistan. I have not mentioned their names or specific locations due to security reasons.
One SIGN surgeon practices in northern Afghanistan. He has taken extra training in correction of children’s deformities. He and his wife were heartbroken when the parents of a newborn with a cleft lip and palate refused to accept their child. The SIGN Surgeon and his wife adopted the girl, and are paying for the correction of her deformities. This surgeon and his team have accommodated patients from surrounding hospitals when those hospitals have been damaged in the conflict. SIGN sent him extra equipment to care for these patients.
Another SIGN surgeon from northern Afghanistan made extraordinary efforts to attend the 3rd Annual SIGN Conference in Kabul. There was fighting along the way, forcing three of them to leave their vehicle, walk around the fighting, and catch another ride to Kabul. He told us that he was determined to start a SIGN Program to care for the poor in his city. How could we refuse? The following is a letter from this surgeon shortly after his new program was started.
“Thank you for your concern, me and my family are safe and sound. The hospital has not shut down since the first day the fighting has started. Although being subject to firing of bullets and rockets it has remained open and is in need of serious help by any means necessary.
“Many people have fled and many still remain and are unable to flee. Fighting still continues but in the rural parts of the city. The services of the hospital are needed now more than ever. As the city has reopened a large number of casualties and injured patients are being brought to the hospital at an alarming rate. More than 300 patients have been admitted to the hospital, most being emergency cases. Your help is needed and appreciated. Ext-fix and SIGN Implants are highly needed.”
His follow-up letter six months later speaks for itself.
“I’m sorry I have not been able to keep in touch with you and reply sooner. ... Currently our city is in a state of war and almost on a nightly basis there are attacks on the city. There is fighting during the day and it only gets worst at night. I am a family man and have children myself. I plan on returning (home). Nothing brings me more satisfaction and joy than doing what we do no matter what the situation.”
Finally, I want to salute the physicians at Central ANA Hospital in Kabul, where terrorists dressed in white coats entered the hospital, including the operating room, and shot doctors, hospital personnel and patients. I stayed in this hospital during the 3rd Annual SIGN Conference in November 2015. I know many of the doctors and share their grief. At Central ANA Hospital and across Afghanistan, SIGN Surgeons continue to care for patients injured in the ongoing conflict.
We all share a wonderful calling with these physicians from developing countries.
Dr. Lewis Zirkle is a retired orthopaedic surgeon and the founder of SIGN Fracture Care International, a nonprofit organization in Richland that provides orthopaedic education, surgical equipment and implants to surgeons in more than 50 developing countries.