Manchester surgeon: 'The families understand this attack does not represent Muslims'

Mohamed Ismail Aly, one of the surgeons to operate on victims of last week’s attack, tells of his experiences on the night

Mohamed Ismail Aly, 44, is a consultant burns and plastic surgeon at the Royal Manchester children’s hospital

I got the call at about midnight [on Monday 22 May] – it woke me up. It was the hospital switchboard informing me that there had been a major incident and I had to come in. They didn’t say what had happened but I checked on the BBC website and saw that something had happened at the arena.

On the way to the hospital, I was listening to the local radio and they didn’t seem to know quite what had happened. Some people were suggesting that one of the speakers had blown at the arena.

Mohamed Ismail Aly
Surgeon Mohamed Ismail Aly. Photograph: Handout

I operated on my first patient at around 1am on Tuesday morning. When I saw my first patient, it was very clear we were dealing with injuries from a bomb.

Many of the medical staff had never seen anything like it before. The children had horrific, life-threatening injuries you would normally only see in war zones.

I had previous experience dealing with British soldiers returning from Afghanistan when I worked at Broomfield hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, which is a receiving centre for the armed forces.

Last year I also worked a lot on gunshot wounds at the University of Texas hospital in Galveston, which provided me with the experience to deal with this type of incident.

In our job, we have to figure out the most likely scenario. I thought it was probably a terrorist attack, with the perpetrator likely to be identified as a Muslim.

It is not simply a misinterpretation of Islam but exactly the opposite of what our religion teaches. There is nothing in Islam that endorses such actions. Islam sanctifies human life. Unfortunately, the Muslim community as a whole has to deal with the consequences.

Most of my first patients were unconscious when they were brought in. We didn’t know the names of about half of them. They were all given a number when they were brought into accident and emergency before being sent up for surgery.

As doctors, we are taught to relate to our patients and communicate with them as much as possible, but in the early hours of Tuesday morning we had a string of young patients under general anaesthetic, and we didn’t even know their names.

Many had no family with them, and so we had to go ahead with life-saving operations without parental consent which is allowed in an incident classed as an emergency by law in the UK.

I am 100% certain that some of the patients would have died if they hadn’t been brought in so quickly by paramedics. Many lives were saved by their quick response.

We saw all sorts of horrific injuries, some caused by bolts and other shrapnel, as well as burns. Many of the children have already undergone multiple procedures and will continue to be in my care for many months ahead. All elective surgery has been cancelled since the attack and that will continue into this week.

I’m from Egypt but trained in Britain. At least six of the other surgical consultants at the children’s hospital are also Muslims, plus many other doctors and nurses.

Manchester has great ethnic diversity so the hospital staff reflects that. I did wonder if some of the families of our patients might be a bit apprehensive but that wasn’t the case. You could sense from the families and talking to them that this is not part of their thinking. They understand that this attack does not represent the Muslim community.

It saddened me to hear that a Muslim medic, Naveed Yasin, was racially abused after operating on bomb victims at Salford Royal hospital.

Instead, what I have been struck by is the positive outlook demonstrated by my patients and their families. They say: “Yes, my child is seriously injured, but they are going to be fine.”

It is typical of optimistic attitudes in this part of the world, a belief that things will be OK. It’s not about looking back at what happened but how we can move forwards in a positive and cohesive way.


As told to Helen Pidd North of England editor

The GuardianTramp

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