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Doctor gave up his comfortable life as a GP to help the Rohingya refugees

Doctor Cross is pictured at the Kutupalong medical facility in Bangladesh, where he worked to help the minority fleeing persecution in Myanmar

By Sebastian Murphy-Bates 
January 8, 2018

Doctor gave up his comfortable life as a GP to help the Rohingya refugees after vowing to change his life when his beloved wife died
  • Ian Cross joined Médecins Sans Frontières as a tribute to wife who died in 2012
  • The 64-year-old has been helping thousands of refugees at camp in Bangladesh
  • He says as many as 20,000 arrived in one day as they fled Myanmar persecution
  • But he has also told of his 'absolute joy' at treating patients on the front line 
A 64-year-old doctor has told how he left his comfortable life to go to the front line of the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Father-of-three Ian Cross arrived in Kutupalong, Bangladesh, to find more than 620,000 had arrived after fleeing persecution in Myanmar.

It was a far cry from his 25-year career as a GP in Leicester, which took a decisive turn when his wife died and he joined Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in 2012 as a 'tribute' to her.

He watched the Rohingya crisis unfold this year having already completed 'missions' in Swaziland and Delhi fighting HIV and TB, but wrote on the Mirror Online it didn't stop him being heartbroken at seeing four people die on his first day in Bangladesh.

'Even though I’d never worked in a crisis zone before, I made up my mind right away to go,' he said. 

'I knew I’d be in for a shock. Long days, and months without a day off were common in emergency zones, as medics pull together to save as many lives as possible.'

He found more than 620,000 refugees squashed into a 3,000-acre park that had been transformed into a makeshift camp and was struggling with a relentless flow of newly arriving Rohingyas, with as many as 20,000 arriving in just one day. 

'The injuries we were seeing were atrocious – a lot of gunshot wounds, people who’d been hit with gun butts, stepped on landmines, or who had fallen while fleeing from soldiers attacking their villages,' he said. 

The patient that most stuck in his memory was a five-year-old girl who fled from soldiers attacking her village.

As her father ran with her held close to his chest, she clung tightly to his neck. But when a soldier fired at them, the bullet smashed through her arm and hit her father;s neck. 

He died instantly and fell on top of his daughter, who was forced to wriggle free from beneath his corpse and flee to the Bangladeshi border. 

Doctor Cross says bones in her wounded arm were fused together at the camp, where she also received tendon transplants. 

Thanks to Médecins Sans Frontières, she will be able to use her hand again once she has recovered from her injuries. 

A father to three daughters, Doctor Cross said the hardest part of the Rohingya mission is seeing children born with conditions easily corrected in the UK. 

'It’s hard not to feel upset when you see a little girl who’ll be blind for life because of cataracts that could have been corrected,' he said. 

He also recalled treating a boy aged about 12 who had a club foot, which prevented him from running away from soldiers who stormed his village.

Once they'd easily caught up with him, they shot him in his disabled foot rather than killing him, which Doctor Cross said was intended to spread terror to other Rohingya people. 

At the camp, 43 Médecins Sans Frontières medics work alongside Bangladeshi doctors.

Despite Doctor Cross joking 'I don't want to die' when he first joined the group in 2012, he says he's found 'absolute joy' and camaraderie at the frontline of this dangerous crisis.

He recalled witnessing the relief on a young girl's face as the agony brought on by tetanus spasms left her and she relaxed into her tearful father's arms. 

In just 12 days at the camp, 300,000 youngsters were vaccinated against measles and medics are splitting their time to also dig wells for the refugees. 

Doctor Cross has since returned from the crisis for a break and says he'd struggle to go back to being a full-time GP after his time at the frontline. 

He admits finding it difficult to adjust and says he even sees the faces of Rohingya refugees in his dreams as he awaits his next mission.

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