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A Fort Worth Surgeon's Experience Treating Syrian Refugees In Lebanon

Robert Anderson
Dr. Robert Anderson (left) operates on a 7-year-old boy, who couldn't extend his arm due to burns.

A Fort Worth plastic surgeon just returned from a 7,000-mile house call to Lebanon. Dr. Robert Anderson spent more than a week there with Dallas-based LEAP Global Missions, treating displaced Syrians living in refugee camps. What he saw, he says, was devastating.

“When you see what mankind does to mankind and you see the ravages in children caused by decisions that adults make, it’s heart-rending,” Anderson says.

Interview Highlights: Dr. Robert Anderson…

On the refugees living in Lebanon:

“They tend to be fairly stoic. You see the love that the parents have for their children. The love for their children is no different than the love we have for our children and they have the same sorts of concerns. You see mothers who are concerned about scars on their daughters, which might make their daughters unmarriageable.  

"I had a boy who was burned at seven months. He lost his left hand and lower forearm, he lost a lot of his hair and his face was horribly disfigured. The love his father showed after his surgery, just so concerned about whether or not his son was okay, and then when he leaned down to kiss his child, it almost made me want to cry.”  

…On the patients he treated there:  

“The vast majority of the patients we treated were children, as young as 18 months to as old as 16 to 18 years old. They all had injuries either related to bombs, fuel exploding, kitchen accidents where hot milk, soup, water ended up being spilled on the child. We treated one lady who was 35 years old who had a facial burn when she was 10. It had caused a significant problem and it had never been treated, so she came in hoping something could be done and luckily we were able to help her with that.”

Credit Robert Anderson
Dr. Robert Anderson with a patient. Dr. Ali Juma (left), a plastic surgeon from Liverpool, England and Dr. Kevin Healy (right), an anesthesiologist from Gainesville, Florida, observe.

…On the moment that stuck with him:

“[I had a] young boy who had a burn scar contracture of his arm, so that he couldn’t extend his arm out. It was flexed to about 90 degrees at the elbow. We straightened out his arm, put a skin graft on his elbow. After surgery, we went through this extensive list of post-operative instructions and when we got finished, the interpreter said, ‘you understand they live in a tent?’”

…On what he wishes Americans knew about the Syrian conflict:

“The devastation that’s caused by civil war – we lose track of what’s happening when we see numbers... It’s not just 1 million people displaced into Lebanon, 4.5 million people that have left the country, 11 million people internally or externally displaced, these are human beings who are really suffering…I think that sometimes Americans get callous to all these numbers we hear, and we stop thinking about them as people.”

Dr. Robert Anderson is a plastic surgeon based in Fort Worth.

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter is KERA's vice president of news. He oversees news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News has earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.