Since 1994, Aurora Community member Dr. Mohammed Elgazzar has been moving from one conflict zone to another to save lives. Coming from Egypt, he started his mission working as a war surgeon at the age of 30. When civil war broke out in Yemen, he was sent there by the Arab Medical Relief Agency – this was his very first posting. Since then, he has been working in conflict zones from Yemen to Sierra Leone, from Guinea to Syria, from Egypt to South Sudan. Today, Professor Elgazzar lives and works in Istanbul, Turkey.
– Can you tell us a little about your current work, Dr. Elgazzar?
Now, I live in Istanbul, Turkey, working at the Yeditepe University as assistant professor at the Medical Faculty. I have been here with the UN/WHO mission as a War Trauma Surgery Expert, then I got the position at the University. Here, I only teach. I perform surgeries when I’m on vacation and back to my country where I have my own clinic.
– Being a war surgeon, first of all, means to risk your own life and your family to save someone else’s life. Why did you take that risk and what did give you strength to keep going?
Firstly, I love surgery. My first attempt of practicing was when I was a child [smiles]. I have been in love with medicine since my childhood. And I’ve been encouraged to go into this field, especially surgery. Usually, being a student, we have many options to choose from regarding specialties, but I’ve selected only surgery because I love only surgery in medicine. Even before finishing my residency, I have been invited to go to Yemen for a mission during a civil war in 1994. I rushed there immediately. I was the youngest member of the team.
It was the first time I was dealing with war trauma cases. Seeing that you can save the life of a human being encouraged me the most. Usually, the cases of war victims are critical, as wounded people arrive in a very bad condition, about to die, and that’s when you can intervene and save them. This encouraged me to go forward, especially as a war trauma surgeon. After finishing my residency, I went to my next mission in Sierra Leone and Conakry, Guinea, during the civil war. Then, I was on missions in South Sudan, Syria, Jordan, working with such organizations as the ICRC, the UN, the WHO, the Arab Medical Union, etc. And still, I’m ready to join any humanitarian organization in the war trauma field.
– On this long and painful journey, you lost many friends and have seen so much suffering. Have you ever regretted choosing this path?
Not at all. But the only thing that I have decided for myself was not to take my family with me into a conflict zone again. The first time, I was with my family in West Africa, close to the war line. It was painful for me, because my family suffered; my wife and my son, who was around 4 months at that time. It was in Sierra Leone, and we were attacked by rebels, and we had been in the bushes for three days without any documents and transportation.
– You have witnessed so many humanitarian crises. How has the world changed since you began working?
Unfortunately, conflicts never end. People fight against each other; countries fight against each other, and conflicts are continuous. To me, human rights and any kinds of rights are the key to solve conflicts between countries in a peaceful way. If there were an organization that could take care of this… But unfortunately, I don’t see such an organization on the horizon.
– Aurora supports modern-day heroes like you, highlighting their vital work on the ground. What does it mean to you to be part of this community, and how can others help you as well?
Without doing or having any role in the community or in the world I consider myself as dead, a useless subject. I am a humanitarian worker and I consider this as an important part of my life. And speaking of teamwork, I think it’s very important. I cannot do my work alone. Everyone has their own experience to give and we can collaborate with each other; we can support each other. The variety of fields and specialists that exist in the Aurora Community can be very helpful.