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Carlos Haya University Hospital Post-Graduate Training Center

Dr. Yasser Saber Khalaf

Peace, mercy and blessings of GOD

This is my story, I will try to shorten it with words, although the details are much larger and the pain is so deep than any spoken feelings or written words in pages.

My name is Dr. Yasser Saber Khalaf.... 40 years.... From Iraq... I have the Iraqi Board (Ph.D.) degree in the specialization of neurosurgery since 2012, the {F.I.B.M.S.(NS)}.

My story may not differ from the story of any other Iraqi citizen who had faced many difficulties and i tried hardly to overcome them and develop my work and future career on the one hand and to preserve my family from the dangers that surround the country on the other hand, and that means that I have to fight at all levels and at the same time……till now I am trying my best.

I was born in the city of Mosul, the center of the province of Nineveh, Iraq's second largest city, 400 km north of Iraq and capital of the ancient great Assyrian civilization 2000 years BC. .

I completed my primary and secondary school studies and graduated from the college of Medicine in Mosul / University of Mosul in 2002 where I had a Bachalore degree in medicine and general surgery and awarded the degree of M.B.Ch.B.

After graduating from college, I completed my periodical residency in several hospitals in many cities, then, I was accepted to the Iraqi Board for Ph.D. degree in the field of Neurosurgery in 2006 ..... The residency was for five and half years where I passed all tests and my examinations were successfully completed.

Finally I get the Specialization in Neurosurgery in 2012….I was granted and awarded the degree of Fellow of Iraqi Board in Medical Specialization in Neurosurgery {F.I.B.M.S.(NS)}.

Since I graduated from the college of Medicine in 2002 and since I was granted the title of specialization in neurosurgery in 2012 and until now I have worked in many hospitals in my country Iraq, especially in the northern and central areas in the cities of Mosul, Kirkuk, Tikrit and Baghdad as well as many areas away from centers these cities ... All this experience helped me to form an understanding and an integrated picture of the reality of health and the nature of Iraqi society and the suffering of my country people and the troubles  for very long periods of time ... ... I must say that the years of study in college and specialization periods added to me many friends and colleagues from all over Iraq, making the picture seem more clear to me to analyze the situations and give idea about my country to anyone who is interested about this issue.

I come from an average... self-made... simple and struggle Iraqi family…. My family consists of 5 brothers and 2 sisters.... We are all academics, graduated in various scientific specialties and some of my brothers are still engaged in their study until now.

I am the older son of this family ... My second brother have a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Rostock in Germany ... the other in the last year of his doctorate study in veterinary medicine in England .... The other civil engineer ... and the youngest now in the second stage in the college of Pharmacy.... My first sister holds a Bachalore from the Technical Institute and other sister currently studying Doctorate degree in Science.

I am married, I have two children ... a boy aged 5 years, and a daughter aged 1 year and my wife in the third stage of the Arab Board (Ph.D.) in the specialization of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

I have to say that my father and mother help us to achieve this academic status amidst all the harsh conditions.... My dear mother retired employee of the Central Bank of Iraq and my great father had a Diploma from the Technical Institute and he is a specialist in the maintaining and operation of textile machines, He was the first who invented the first project to produce cotton medical laboratory in Mosul when He was director of the department there before he was martyred by Al-Qaeda terrorists in 2008.

In fact, I do not know exactly from where I had to start my story…As an Iraqi citizen, I will be able to say bitterly with conviction that my country Iraq had never taste the peace since 1980 and so far ... Our childhood was difficult in the eight-year war with Iran, where my father was a simple soldier on the front lines and my mother was responsible for the family in the absence of my father.... Then the stage of the invasion of Kuwait by the regime of Saddam in 1990 followed by the second Gulf War and accompanied by massive destruction of all the infrastructure of the country followed by the economic sanctions for 13 years until 2003, during which the Iraqi family suffered bad conditions so many people had to leave their studies in order to live and serve their families as well.

As you know, Iraq had faced many wars since 1980 until now. I can say and totally convinced that we as Iraqi people didn’t live with peace and safety during the last 38 years and that all of us had his own painful story .The tragedy is big and the victims of wars are millions and the destruction and ruin all over the joints of life…..i can say that Since 2003, so far, the losses had been much higher than any years ago. The Iraqi people are the biggest losers in this equation; especially after large areas of the country are occupied by terrorists and hundreds of thousands of innocent people either killed or immigrated to other areas since 2014 until now even after liberation of Iraq from terrorists…..I can say that my city Mosul had been nearly destroyed by the terrorists.

During the 1990s, Iraqis were eager to change regardless to any cost and to open the closed window to the world and to be saved from the regime after these lean years ... In 2003 the third Gulf War started, where the US and coalition forces entered Iraq and the regime fall and that was good news for the Iraqis ..... We were optimistic about the change, but it seems that our ambitions were greater than the reality because what happened after 2003 and so far exceeded any bad images and overcome any dark imagination.... it was so clear for me that the military plan for the fall of Iraq regimen was a perfect but there was no  wise vision or plan after the fall of the regime ... there was no plan for the reconstruction and rebuilding of new Iraq and also no clear idea to rehabilitate the suffering Iraqi people.

In the midst of this chaos, terrorist gangs, such as Al-Qaeda, found their full opportunity to fill the political, economic and military vacuum after the occupation of Iraq, where these gangs were carrying out destruction, killing and ending all sort of life's…I can say that no day pass from late 2003 to 2012 without hearing or seeing their terrorist operations in all areas in which Al-Qaeda terrorism did not distinguished between Sunni,shii ,Christian and Yezidi citizens and entered Iraq effectively in the midst of an undeclared civil war that lasted for years in which innocent people were the victims and the firewood of all this tragedy ..... Every Iraqi family had a share of this tragedy, including my family.

In the morning of the 5th May 2008 my story started. 58 years old man targeted by the terrorist under unknown circumstance…The victim was my father

I was in the second stage of my Ph.D. in neurosurgery studying residency when my beloved father was shooted by seven bullets by Al-Qaeda terrorists gangs in 2008 when they tried to kidnap him and take money from him but he refused and resisted them.... I still remember the dates well in hours and minutes ... This horrible event affected me badly till now and make me enter in a psychological devastation and I would be clear if I said that this wound is still bleeding inside myself and I could never forget it till now .

I remember well that I received my beloved father in the hospital and was conscious at the time and I had to move him from one place to another inside the hospital and to do first aid to him and my white shirt turned to red due to massive bleeding of my beloved father.

He loved his country and his city so much to a degree that nothing can make him thinking to be away from the city and he almost always refused to leave in a more safe area...My father was a tent that covers our heads, we feel safe immune with him and he was with my mother who support us in reaching our current positions despite all the difficulties and suffering..., In fact they challenged all circumstances in order to take us to Safety Beach.

I still remember with great sorrow the last moments of my beloved father and his last words and recommendations to me… I cannot forget until now the last looks of his eyes as he took his last breath.... So far, I cannot see his image without tears after that …really I cannot face his image until now without great pain and deep sadness… I miss him too much.

The pain was very great ...The tragedy beyond any imagination… In the shadow of this disaster I decided to end my relationship with medicine and stop study the PhD degree ... I was in a state of total collapse and shock state ... But.... I gathered all my remaining strength and power and prepared myself well challenging all difficulties and pain ....I had to go beyond this painful stage with courage, patience and great responsibility to push the wheel of the family and my brothers careers forward and complete the way and the will of my father ... I realized that my collapse means the collapse of the entire family and the loss of the future of all my brothers. Everyone was in a state of total shock ... I will say that I had to be strong in front of my family, but in fact I felt very weak from inside.

I had to fight at all fronts and at the same time ... I had to secure my family lives by moving them to a safer place in Mosul as we were at the top of the list of the wanted by these terrorists who want to take revenge on us  ... I had to push my brothers strongly forward to complete study and provide them with their needs.... I had to finish my father's obligations ... I had to provide the needs of the family and above all this to complete my residency in the study of specialization away from the parents in the capital Baghdad 400 km south of my city because there were no neurosurgery center in Mosul .... I had to read and work and study for many months away from the family and spend a short period of time with the family full of many responsibilities that I have to finished.... In fact, that period was very difficult but every step forward made me feel happy.

It continued for a long time to restore things, but at the end I succeeded ... Yes ... I succeeded and helped my family and myself to overcome this ordeal despite many failures trials.

I remembered well in the midst of these responsibilities I rejected any marriage project that can be added to my already overcrowded list of responsibilities and that may make away me from the most important responsibility which was my family .... Finally I married late after the stability of the situation of parents in 2012 ... I had to say that any success to any member of my family made me feel so happy and proud so that I do reach the goal that my father want me to do.

The situation in Iraq has stabilized relatively in 2012 so that we are surprised then after by a new disaster, when a new generation emerged from the remnants of the criminal base of Al-Qaeda gangs and they came from western Iraq from the Syrian border…. The ISIS terrorists.

After days of fighting with Iraqi army, my beloved city of Mosul fall down into the hands of ISIS gangs, 2014 ... The fighting lasted for almost two days and the neighborhoods and areas in Mosul were falling by those terrorists completely as the stones of the dominoes and there was no more pessimists believe and imagine that Mosul will fall in this way and speed...... It was a disaster for all of Iraqis ... The government, the coalition and the army everyone were silent and did not move a finger forward to prevent this tragedy .... To me it is like a plot and that the time had stopped or paralysis that hit us in front of this terrorist tide.

At that time, I was living with my family in our new house on the left bank of the city. It was the night of June 10, 2014 when I confirmed that three quarters of the city had actually fallen into the hands of the terrorists and it was necessary to make a rapid decision to leave the city and immigration north and before they arrived an hour, it was very difficult to secure the way out safely with every passing minute and the way is not safe to escape by every minutes passed..... I had to make a decision risking the lives of my family.... I was still had hope in the possibility of expelling these terrorists until the last moment, but I decided to migrate and took the final decision. Personally, I think that my father scenario may be repeated with me or any of my brothers.

That night I went out with my family after a very big risk and headed towards the Alqush city, a small area with a large Christian population ... we were in a state of total disorientation. We left behind everything ... money... houses ... objects and our beautiful memories in our city Mosul ...we  did not take with us only our important papers and clothes that we were wearing ... We received by Christians with great support and warm hearted feelings and they prepared for us everything from food,housing,comfort and complete tranquility ... The ordeal and the bad news came from Mosul every day carrying the news of the killing, destruction, looting, rape and explosions that hit the mosque, the church, the cities, the universities, the colleges and everything .... The city has been sent to ruins and people to pieces torn apart and human shields by these terrorists.

I stay with my family for two months in Alqush city. I worked there as volunteer doctor in a health center and treated many wounded, sick, immigrated and displaced people. I worked as a surgeon, an internist and pediatrician at the same time ... Later news of the confiscation of my family's property and the takeover of our homes by terrorists ... It was so painful, but the most important thing was to save my family lives.

I have to say that Alqush city that small area, has survived from the new terrorism and all the armies of terrorism had been not able to approach them despite their small area and small numbered populations, thanks to the courage of the people who repelled the terrorist attack.

I was convinced that the terrorists' stay and their removal from Mosul would take a long time and what increased my conviction was the turmoil in the political situation in Iraq and the slow pace of the movement to end this tragedy. A new decision had to be made to adapt to the new bitter reality… The decision to migrate this time is to the south to Baghdad, where another battels with the difficult situations started… The stay in the north for years meant the losing of new years of my future with my brothers.

The journey to the capital was very difficult ... all the roads were occupied by terrorists among complete collapse of all military units and there was only one flight line from Erbil city to Baghdad ... In that period terrorists occupied more than a third of Iraq's territory and actually they did arrived to the borders of the capital Baghdad .

I arrived with my family to the capital Baghdad on 18 September 2014. The city was scared and waiting ... it seemed to me that it was dying or was watching closely its near death ... The streets leading from the airport were almost empty and the people were very frightened.. It was a ghost town already.... Everyone was scared waiting.

Our economic situation was very difficult ... I was able after a great effort to provide rent accommodation for the family, which was not so arranged well... Soon after I began to follow up the academic subjects for my brothers and after a period, they engaged in their studies and succeeded, I do breathe a sigh of relief…. thanks God.

After all this clouds of this dark difficult period things began to clear for me, including that the decision to emigrate from Mosul was true especially as I was hearing the horrors and calamities of people, friends and relatives stranded… They were dead alive.

After completing my family's affairs, I decided this time to turn to arrange myself. I was engaged in voluntary work at a hospital in the capital, the Neurosurgery teaching Hospital in Baghdad, for several months without pay to work as a surgeon and help my colleagues who received the wounded ten every day.

As the months passed I was able, with great difficulty, to pass all the rattles and transfer my work permanently to Baghdad and since late 2015 and so far, I work as a specialist in Baghdad.

I still live in Baghdad as a displaced family, but our hearts and souls are suspended in our city Mosul and every day we still follow-up news coming from Mosul.

Finally, we were pleased with the liberation of Mosul and Iraq from these terrorists in late 2016 by the heroes of the Iraqi army and the security forces and for many months, we were watching TV screens and following the news of liberation battles of Iraq step by step.

This time, the Iraqi army was an example of courage, sacrifice and heroism. It included all nationalities, sects from all over Iraq, all of them had one goal which is to expel the terrorists ... Their task was very difficult. They had to kill and expel the terrorists while liberating innocent people whom the terrorists took them as human shields. The battles were taking place in the narrow alleys and crowded with civilians and on both sides of the Tigris River, especially in the old city on the right side.... The mission was impossible but they succeeded in liberating the city after very fierce battles and sacrifices were very large.

We were happy with the liberation, but everything had a price and the price of liberation was a severe destruction of the city by the terrorists, especially in the infrastructure, in addition to the losing of many relatives, innocent people and friends.... The city was completely destroyed and there was nothing left without destruction in the ground ... There was no hospital left, and it was destroyed or out of service.

The city began to recover, months after the war stopped, and thousands of displaced people in the camps began to turn back, but till now, despite the fact that more than a year has passed since the liberation, they did not received any real attention or care. The destruction and tragedy were everywhere and there is no real plan for reconstruction. Mosul city Is very large and has a population of more than 3.5 million people in which still have no one hospital working properly...... Infrastructure is completely destroyed and I think there is no doubt that Mosul, especially the right bank of the city where the city is dramatically affected and God help doctors who did everything possible or even impossible to help patients…it was declared city disaster .

Yes ... The liberation from the terrorists is military action, but the most important is the drying up of the intellectual terroristic ideology of these terrorists in addition to a real plan for reconstruction ... I have to say that things returned somewhat to normal in about 50% of the city but I did not return back with my family So far I'm afraid about them because I still think that things are unstable and I cannot venture the lives of the family and make a quick decision to return..... Me and my family with most of the city's population in anticipation and fear of the unknown.... True we are very happy to liberate the city, but life taught us that we should not have so optimistic.

In front of all these tragedies and difficulties I have been and still aspire to develop my career in my area of ??expertise and I seek in all possible ways to get any opportunity that may be available to me for training or to receive any fellowship that may add or compensate something that I could not catch or missed during the last difficult years, I do ask for many organizations to give me a training fellowship In order to convey a small part of the suffering of my people to the outside world and to satisfy my thirst and hunger toward neurosurgery .

The story began in late September 2016 with the World Organization of neurosurgical societies when I do write to Professor Dr.Miguel A. Arraez, sent him my desire to have an opportunity for fellowship after I had explained to him my difficult circumstances…. The correspondence lasted for months and the professor was so kind, he understood everything in details, understood it well and helped me every time, as it was difficult to obtain a visa and get the approval of the hospital and the department but all of these things are understood with patience, support of the professor and my great will .

I still remembered everything that I write to Professor Dr.Miguel and I told him once that all these wars and tragedies that have occurred are still ongoing destroying the country even after liberation of these areas from terrorists, many innocent people had been killed in addition to the destruction of all the infrastructure of the country, this will lead our country to be away from the rest of the world in all aspects of life and the big issue for majority of my country people is to how to live safely with their families at the expense of any ambition or motivation to develop ourselves in the future.

Many of the problems, including the lack of hospitals and the destruction of the bulk of them, the wards old and not developed, very few surgical instruments, including microscopes and others, receiving a large number of wounded and visitors per day exceeds the capacity of any hospitals, many doctors were threatened by terrorists and a large number either killed or leave out of the country. Despite all these tragedies me and with the rest of my colleagues are still doing everything possible and sometimes impossible to serve the people and the wounded victims, I am now a specialist in a governmental hospital in Baghdad.

In last day before I leave Malaga I told the Professor that large part of these problems cannot be resolved by myself alone and by the rest of my colleagues. Despite all these problems, the ambition still exists despite the lack of clarity of vision among this cloudy weather.

Personally, I came to the full conviction and after long period of thinking that there is something possible to contribute to serve the rest of my people, I was  focusing on getting a fellowship till I fortunately and after many months of difficulties that you cannot imagine accepted WFNS in a clinical fellowship at Carlos Haya University Hospital In Malaga Spain….Professor Dr.MIGUEL A.ARRAEZ is the man who give this hope and support me over more than one year challenging all the difficulties  and he understand all the difficulties that had faced me by his pure and fatherly spirit so that I have the opportunity to be  one of his students, he is the man who gave the hope and the light in the dark tunnel…….. When I met him he said….always remember that always GOD with us…..indeed I miss him and all the friendly staff.

I think that the ambition is very great and i still have great hope and i will fight until reaching my goal will be reflected positively on my country people.

Indeed I was lucky enough to meet professor and chairman Professor Dr.MIGUEL A.ARRAEZ and all the friendly medical staff at Neurosurgery department at Carlos Haya Hospital/Malaga/Spain, he kindly introduce me to Neurosurgery department.

This friendly cooperative department is beautifully organized, highly motivated and honestly working.

I will recommend strongly all my colleagues to get a chance to come here among this lovely family.

Professor Dr.Miguel A.Arraez is not only professor, but also can be my father whenever i need help in my everyday life. Training in this department extremely exciting….so as all doctors in this nice family….Carlos Haya Neurosurgery Department.

I am deeply impressed by the organized medical system with their best effort to help the patients. I am sure that this precious experience is a great chance for every neurosurgeon who want to discover the art of neurosurgery.

In addition to a nice beautiful Andalusian Malaga city and nice Spanish people, The Professor, doctors and all medical staff are extraordinary nice, they are always willing to offer their warm help so that I feel at home.

Walking through the city, the archaeological sites and the beautiful beach can completely open my mind and experience the classic Andalusian Spanish beauty.

Within two months, I was very busy in medical training, attending operations (69 neurosurgical operations)… I do document in details all operations by making Carlos Haya Neurosurgical Log Book, taking all the post-operative medical reports, attending all morning meetings, attending in all twice weekly ground tour for patients, attending to lectures, getting to know creative surgeons, recording all the notes, knowing friends, knowing the wonderful Spanish people and beautiful Andalusian culture.

I have to say that I introduce two lectures during my fellowship training the first one composed of two parts give it the title of (IRAQ between past and present, facts and personal opinion / Health situation in Iraq ) in 15/2/2018 and my second lecture I titled it as (2 months WFNS Fellowship In Malaga/Spain. Personal informations and fellowship activities) and it was in 22/2/2018.…Indeed I was looking for anything that I can help my country people during my stay in Malaga.

I can say that i know now more than 120 Spanish words.

My schedule was intensive but I love it.

I spent days and nights thinking of what I can do when I return back to my country and I think the most important thing is to get the subspecialty and although it is mission impossible but I will fight to get it.I hope that I gave a good idea about my country, Iraq and its pain and suffer and I hope that i give a good impression on my country people. It was the first time when I met Professor Dr. ARRAEZ at the Malaga airport it was Friday, December 29, 2017 the Professor said that Albert Einstein said In the middle of difficulties lies opportunity.

 

I will not forget this forever.

Two months in Great Spain…a life experience and great memories occupied my heart and my brain for the rest of my life.

 

Dr.Yasser Saber Khalaf

 

 

 



Dr. Miguel Arrez, Dr. Yasser Saber Khalaf and colleagues in Carlos Haya University Hospital, Malaga, Spain

 

 

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