Six months after the earthquake, Salahedin is still at beck and call. And with good reason: his home is barely a hundred metres from the hospital he runs. He has lost count of the number of trips he has made back and forth between his office and home since the earthquake struck north-west Syria last February.
This hospital director is used to dealing with emergencies. Originally from Aleppo, he used to work in a facility that was bombed "hundreds of times", he says. But in his opinion, the violence of gunfire is nothing compared to that of an earthquake.
"I've nearly died several times, but I've never been so afraid for my life and that of my children... For a few minutes I didn't know whether I'd be able to protect them from the worst."
An endless stream of casualties
In the days and weeks following the earthquake, more than 1,500 casualties were treated at his hospital, and some 1,130 people underwent surgery there.
"A few hours after the violent tremors, we saw injured people arriving from villages 10, 15 and 20 kilometres from our town. It was as if a river had burst its banks... a never-ending flow of patients – women, men, children – soaked by the rain, some seriously injured. Civilians were helping us carry the wounded from one room to another, from one floor to another. I remember mothers looking for their children, orphans... For the first 48 hours, my teams and I stayed at the hospital. We never slept. It was hell."
Some patients with severe trauma, particularly those suffering from crush syndrome after being trapped under the rubble for several hours, underwent dozens of operations.
"We have patients who have been in hospital for several months. After seeing them through intensive care, psychological support and then rehabilitation, we've built up a very strong bond. Six months on, we're like one big family," he tells us.
Each face is engraved in his memory
He tells the story of Rema, a 13-year-old girl who was amputated after being trapped under the rubble for 30 hours, and with whom he has developed a very special relationship.
"Rema arrived with her leg amputated, having spent 30 hours trapped under the rubble of her building. I was very quickly informed that her father had died in the disaster, but I couldn't tell her because she needed all her strength to survive. I started coming to visit her in her room on the second or third day after she was admitted. My little sister was the same age as her, so maybe that's what affected me. Every day, I went back to see her and told her how strong she was, that she was a hero and that she was going to get through this. Sometimes, when she didn't see me in the ward, she would ask my teams where I was... This month, Rema passed her secondary school entrance exams and is walking on both her legs again thanks to the prosthesis we gave her. I'm so happy for her."
Rema, Abdul-Rahman, Mariam... Salahedin remembers every face, every name that he has come across over the last 6 months. Each of their stories is forever etched in his memory.
"If we have to deal with another earthquake in the future, I can assure you that my teams and I are 100% ready. We had experience of war, and now we have experience of this type of natural disaster. We are caregivers; people need us. We must remain strong and not give up, because without us, they would lose faith in the future".
HI has been supporting thirteen other hospitals in north-west Syria since the disaster on 6 February. Our teams have fitted more than 300 prostheses and orthoses and run 10,500 rehabilitation and more than 8 000 psychological first aid sessions.