Intensive care nurse Bev Cejer, from Grange Park, was among a team of specialist medics from Bristol Children’s Hospital who travelled to Syria to perform children’s heart operations in May.
A Syrian working at Bristol helped to arrange for the small team to go to the Al-Bir charity hospital in Homs to operate on youngsters who may not have been able to reach Syria’s only children’s cardiac surgeon in the capital Damascus.
During their week-long stay, the team successfully carried out eight operations on youngsters, considerably improving their life chances. "The parents were so grateful when they saw their child recovering; it made the trip worthwhile," said Bev.
She and her colleagues also spent time training hospital staff via translation and a lot of practical demonstration. Before they could start work, the Arabic script on all the storage containers had to be given English names although the medicines inside were labelled in English.
The hospital at Homs, Syria’s third largest city, had all the equipment necessary, even though some was fairly old. Bev was surprised that parents are not allowed into intensive care which would be encouraged in UK hospitals as it helps speed recovery. She said that in many ways, the healthcare system is like the NHS, thirty years ago.
Every evening, the team were invited to sumptuous meals as medical colleagues wanted to show their gratitude. "The hospitality was phenomenal; we were being taken for a big dinner every night and every dinner was a celebration. It was hard for them to understand that we had to be up early for a concentrated day’s work."
Despite working long days, there was a little time to take in the sights, including the imposing Crusader castle Crak de Chevaliers and the beautiful Roman city of Palymera.
The trip was paid for by the Al-Bir hospital’s charity fund and the Bristol team is now looking for ways to raise money for flights and accommodation for another trip.
“We made good friends at Al-Bir and we’re very keen to develop the link,” said Bev, who plans to take some Arabic lessons before returning.