Jordan: “I held his hand and he answered with a grip, and I knew that the battle to save him was about to start”

21 Jul 2016
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Edgar Escalante, surgical specialist at Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF)'s emergency surgical project in Ramtha, Jordan, describes the efforts made by his team to treat Syrians wounded in the conflict.

“I have been working with MSF since I retired in 2013. I worked in Yemen and Afghanistan previously, and expected to find something similar when I arrived in Ramtha, northern Jordan, almost a year ago. But I was impressed by this context, because we are so close to the conflict zone, yet in a safe and peaceful place at the same time.

A patient I'll never forget

One patient I will never forget was a young Syrian man who came to us after being injured in a bomb blast. He had severe head trauma, massive damage to his abdomen and multiple open fractures to his arm and legs. The possibility of saving his life was practically nil. After applying external fixators to the fractured limbs, we transferred him to another facility for intensive care. We were not able to provide intensive care in Ramtha at that moment since we had received multiple casualties and our hospital was full.


Save my son

After being transferred back to Ramtha the young man underwent several major surgeries to his chest, abdomen and brain and fell into a deep coma that lasted about three weeks. Every time I did my rounds, I saw his mother, who was always at his side. Every day she said to me, ‘Save my son…don’t let him die’. Even though his case was considered hopeless, we continued to try and keep him alive regardless.

One day during my rounds, I noticed some eye movement for a few seconds, telling me the young man was still with us. I held his hand and he answered with a grip, and then I knew for sure that the battle to save him was about to start.

It’s been seven months since then and, after many operations on his chest and brain and many orthopaedic surgeries, he is recovering in our post-operative care clinic in Zaatari refugee camp. When I see him there, he talks to me, he sings and he is beginning to walk again. Every week I visit him in the camp, and every time I receive the best reward for my efforts: a big smile, a handshake and a ‘thank you’.

A new stage

What I enjoy most about working in this project is not only having the chance to help treat wounded Syrians and make a difference to the lives of the Syrian people, but also working hand-in-hand with my Jordanian colleagues for the same cause. And today, with the opening of this new operating department, a new stage in the life of the Ramtha surgical project is about to start.

Our emergency surgery project in Ramtha is of great importance to both the Syrian and the Jordanian people. We provide a high standard of care for war-wounded Syrians, as well as good training opportunities for Jordanian staff.

Looking forward to the near future, I expect that this project will be expanded to include new admission criteria as well as new training opportunities not only for the Jordanian staff, but also for the Syrian doctors and nurses working across the border in Syria in facilities supported by MSF.”

Read more about our work in Jordan