Tue, 12/13/2011

Libyan civil war victim's face reconstructed at MLK

In the Libyan civil war architect Mohamed Z. got into a fight. Missile fragments torn off parts of his face. Today, after numerous operations in a Berlin hospital, he can eat and speak.

When he arrived in Berlin after an emergency operation in Egypt most of his face was missing. The 29-year-old could neither chew nor swallow, let alone speak. A gastric tube kept him alive.

Today, he can eat, talk and even laugh. He raises his thumb and says: "I'm happy." Again and again the Libyan runs his hand over his scarred face which has been operated four times since September. Johannes Bruck, chief physician of the Clinic for Aesthetic Surgery at Martin Luther Hospital, this is a good sign: "He has accepted his face." This is not normal. After his first operation in Berlin also Mohamed Z. did not want to look in the mirror.

The architect was traveling in a car as a civilian in June during a fighting in the city of Misurata when missile splinters tore a hole in his face. His uncle took him to Egypt, where doctors saved his life by gavage, and operated on his face for the first time. With the help of the charity Doctors in Germany for Libya the seriously injured came to Berlin, where he was treated by Bruck and his colleagues.

The doctors increased the reconstructed jaw and nose. From the groin they took a palm-sized piece of skin, which they placed on the face. "The skin at the bar is very thin, making it possible to produce a better facial expressions," said Bruck. With skin from his arm, the doctors restored the mouth. However its angle must be expanded. Now he only needs a dental prosthesis.

The operations itself are daily surgery, Bruck says. Difficult is to plan and deal with the patient. He arrived in a depressive state in a foreign country not knowing what was happening to him. Only in writing and with the help of an interpreter, physicians and patients could communicate first. The now stable and optimistic young man obviously fills the doctor with pride.

Mohamed Z. is not alone in Berlin. He lives with compatriots in Charlottenburg, to return to his home after recovery. "There are many Libyan injured in Berlin, the one missing a leg, another an arm," says Mohamed Z. For months Berlin doctors have been dealing with the effects of the civil war. At Martin Luther Hospital alone about 40 injured have been treated so far. The costs are borne by the transitional government.

In Libya comparable medical care is unheard of. In the summer the aid agency Doctors Without Borders reported of "shocking conditions" in Libyan hospitals. Since February 2011 aid workers in Libya have been helped in more than 12,000 medical treatments.