From refugee to medical revolutionary - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

From refugee to medical revolutionary

Written by on December 8, 2015 in Happiness, Work with 0 Comments

UnknownNearly everyone has a story to tell. Talk to a person long enough and you inevitably discover their past is as richly embroidered with colourful characters and events as the most compelling novel. This definitely applies to many refugees whose lives are turned upside down by war and other misfortune.

Refugees such as Munjed Al Muderis, a much-anticipated speaker at Happiness & Its Causes 2016, who describes in this presentation how he fled Iraq as a young doctor in fear of his life, ran the gamut of people smugglers, leaky boats, and detention centres; and yet despite all the difficulties and obstacles, managed to realise his dream to become an orthopaedic surgeon of global renown, specifically “one of three surgeons worldwide that are pioneering this revolutionary technology called osseointegration.”

Muderis describes this as a procedure where he inserts “the residual amputated part of the limb into a robotic prosthesis. This gives the amputee a higher mechanical function capacity and a greater comfort, compared to a cumbersome, archaic style of Captain Hook socket prosthesis.”

It all began, he says, when he watched the 1984 film, The Terminator. That’s when the then 12-year-old Muderis had his first inkling of what he wanted to be when he grew up. The only child of one of Iraq’s most noble families could never have known at that time what mayhem and upheaval lay ahead.

The day that everything changed for Muderis was in October 1999. By then having graduated as a doctor, Muderis recalls parking his “brand new Mercedes at Bagdad University Hospital and going into the theatre complex” where Republican Guards and Baath party members were waiting for him and his colleagues with three busloads of army deserters and draft dodgers. “They ordered us to abandon the elective surgery and amputate these deserters’ ears, to brand them.”

When the head of surgery refused to carry out their order because it violated the Hippocratic oath he’d taken to do no harm, he was shot. Muderis says in this horrific moment, he recollected advice his father had given him as a young boy, that he should “always question and argue with what you hear if your instincts tell you it’s not right.” What to do? Refuse and be shot, or obey orders and “live with guilt for the rest of my life?”

Muderis chose instead to hide in the female toilet for five hours after which he had no other option but to leave Iraq. “From then on, I was an escapee, a traitor, and the treatment for traitors is execution.”

The road subsequently travelled by Muderis from Bagdad to Jordan, on to Malaysia and then Indonesia, and that eventually led to Australia was a circuitous and at times, precarious one. He negotiated with smugglers, risked his life on an overcrowded and unseaworthy boat, and spent months on Christmas Island, and in the Curtin Detention Centre in WA’s Kimberly where his punishment because he “challenged the establishment” was to receive several jail sentences.

His ordeal, however, was to end happily. Muderis says that “one year to the day I arrived on Australian soil, I received my first pay cheque as a doctor and within two years, I entered one of the most exclusive training programs, the Australian Orthopaedic Training Scheme.”

Muderis says the scepticism of his peers, and in some cases their racist remarks, just made him even more determined to complete the training. “And I did it!” he says. “I became an orthopaedic surgeon and I pursued my passion to make the Terminator.”

Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis is a world leading osseointegration surgeon, and Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor at University of Notre Dame Australia. He will be presenting a session at Happiness & Its Causes 2016. To register, click here.

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