FOCUS on Miracle Workers: The Shadow Doctor

Andrew Wilson
Staff Writer

Known in the humanitarian medical relief world as the “Indiana Jones of Surgery,” David Nott is a renowned British surgeon who has made a name for himself volunteering in chaotic war and disaster environments.  The British Medical Journal described him as a doctor “drawn to the sound of gunfire.”

Nott garnered an extensive list of volunteer field experiences over the past two decades; he began training doctors and performing operations during the Siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War in 1993. Subsequently, Nott practiced surgeries in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad, Libya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, and many more.  Most recently, he undertook a medical campaign in Syria, performing remote surgeries with doctors through smart phones as well as putting himself on the ground, reports the National.

On his foundation’s website, Nott illustrates events during January 2017 when he operated on wounded children around the clock in an Aleppo field hospital.  Describing a five-month old infant named Maram whose legs and left arm had been shattered by the same bomb that killed her parents and injured her brother and sister, he stated, “I saw my own child and, perhaps because I missed her so desperately, I felt intensely overwhelmed.  I have made numerous trips to Syria to treat the casualties of war, but none was as sorrowful as the week I spent with Aleppo’s children.”

Recounting Maram’s operation, Nott described the difficulties that occur due to the lack of doctors or access to medicines in Aleppo.  Without sufficient access to analgesic fluid, Maram suffered painfully on a tiny dose of paracetamol, a form of Tylenol used for mild discomfort.  

With whatever doctors available overlapping on patients due to the frequency of airstrikes and the immense numbers of wounded, Nott couldn’t even discern what medication Maram had already received.  “The whole hospital stank of the bacteria that had caused her infections… I worked delicately around the open compound fracture Maram had suffered in her left leg,” quotes the Daily Mail.

As for the Assad regime’s role, Physicians for Human Rights stated that since the war began, the Syrian regime has tortured, bombed and assassinated almost seven hundred medical personnel, reports the Daily Mail. A United Nations commission deduced that “government forces deliberately target medical personnel to gain military advantage.”  

According to , Aleppo once housed thousands of physicians, but the recent conflict has caused their mass exodus to Europe and neighboring countries.

Unfortunately, Nott’s tactic of remotely aiding Syrian doctors via Skype and WhatsApp may have backfired on him, reports the BBC.  Nott fears that the hacking of his computer led to the destruction of an Aleppo hospital by a suspected Russian “bunker buster” bomb.  More disturbing, the BBC Newsnight program that broadcasted one of Nott’s 2016 operations is thought to have played a role in disclosure of the hospital’s location.

Because of suspicions that his electronic footprint was used to target this underground hospital, Nott will stop directing Syrian operations remotely via smart phones.  “The thing that gets me is that we now cannot help doctors in war zones… If somebody is watching what we are doing and blows up the hospital then that is a war crime,” cites the National of Nott.  Tech experts said identifying and pinpointing a location by performing a hack such as the supposed one on Nott’s computer is plausible, but unlikely, according to the Telegraph.

Save for this setback, enormous tribute should be payed to David Nott.  As praised by Priti Patel, a former minister on the UK Parliament’s House of Commons foreign affairs select committee, “he is an amazing individual who in the most difficult circumstances has been saving lives in Syria while the bombs of Assad have been falling down.”

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