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Helping victims of violence in Yemen conflict zones

As a trauma orthopaedic surgeon, Dr. Abdel-Rahman Lawendy is frequently confronted with high-stake situations.

What he isn’t as familiar with, however, is working alone in foreign hospitals on patients who have been shot, stabbed, or attacked with a bomb.

In December, as people across Canada were celebrating their holiday traditions, Dr. Lawendy had the opportunity to experience this kind of relief work on a mission to Yemen with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) — an international medical humanitarian organization.

Dr. Lawendy, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, explained that MSF accepts doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals, and attempts to match workers and volunteer to missions that match their skill set.

“As a trauma orthopaedic surgeon, MSF suggested I partake in a mission mainly in disaster or conflict zones,” he said. “I was asked to work in Yemen where they had set up an entire hospital to deal with victims of violence.”

Dr. Lawendy is no stranger to relief work. In 2005 he volunteered his time in Pakistan after the Kashmir earthquake, and he also worked in Gaza during the conflict of 2008 – 2009.

However, the Yemen mission further expanded his operative skill set.

“You rarely treat the same type of injuries in London, Ontario that you do in a country like Yemen,” he said. “You’re also alone — you don’t have backup medical or surgical specialties to assist in management of patients— so it does stretch your skill set in terms of how you deal with these injuries.”

Traveling halfway across the world during the holiday season to take part in a relief work mission may not be an easy task for everyone, but this kind of work is important to Dr. Lawendy all year round. 

In his current position as an assistant professor, there are quite a few tasks other than patient care that he needs to concentrate on. Relief work missions like the ones with MSF give him the opportunity to focus more on providing patient care.

“It’s a way to provide service and to represent Canada in global humanitarian work— you are able to help many people who otherwise have little to no access to health care,” he said.

He also explained that even though the media gives constant exposure to problems like natural disasters and war that are remote from our daily lives, he believes he is a global citizen and has responsibilities that extend beyond his immediate environment. “Given the opportunity to be able to assist on a global scale is an experience that I value,” he said.

Schulich Medicine & Dentistry has had a longstanding history of medical outreach both clinically and academically around the world. Dr. Lawendy explained that working in education and development and providing clinical service mirrors the School’s outreach and internationalization goals.