For Canadians Jay Dahman and Mark Cameron, teaching emergency field medicine in the heart of the ongoing Syrian conflict mostly involved dealing with the aftermaths of gun battles, mortar shell explosions and gas attacks.
They’ve taught pharmacists how to tie tourniquets.
They’ve taught doctors how to stop bleeding by inserting a needle directly into a bone.
They’ve taught teenage volunteer nurses how to open a choked airway.
Then the winter hit – the worst in Syria in more than 20 years – and all of a sudden, gunshot wounds weren’t the only thing they had to worry about.
“Imagine facing winter in bare feet and only a single layer of clothing,” says Dahman, a physician who, along with Cameron, a paramedic, has been travelling to Syria to provide medical training for almost two years. “This is the situation in Syria now – and people, especially children, are dying because of it.”
Dahman and Cameron have now launched an intensive campaign called Coats from Canada to help stem the tide of cold-related deaths in Syria’s hardest-hit areas. Through their NGO, the Canadian International Medical Relief Organization (CIMRO), the two are collecting warm clothing and cash donations, which will then be distributed through their network of contacts in Syria and neighbouring Turkey.
“We’re doing our best to work as fast as possible, because the need is immediate,” explains Cameron, who graduated from Humber’s paramedic program in 1987 and now lives in Peterborough. “People are desperate, so we have friends who are already in the area standing by, ready to buy coats and give them to those in need within 24 hours of a monetary donation being made. We’re also trying to find ways to ship clothing donations quickly and inexpensively.”
Cameron and Dahman, who co-direct the Sunnybrook-Humber Pediatric Advanced Life Support course, say that CIMRO’s mission is strictly humanitarian, with no political affiliation to either side of the bitter conflict.
“Ninety-five per cent of the people we treat are civilians caught in the cross-fire, but we work with anyone who needs attention,” says Cameron. “No one takes sides when they’re treating patients, regardless of what their politics are.”
For Dahman, whose parents are Syrian, travelling back and forth to the conflict zone is hard, but rewarding.
“Saving a life is an incredibly rewarding feeling – and that helps you keep going, keep trying to make a difference,” he says. “Talk is cheap when people are dying – so we put our boots on the ground to help people who are suffering. Now we’re asking for help to make that possible.”
Image: Dr. Jay Dahman (left) and paramedic Mark Cameron on the remains of a tank