14 Jul. 2008

Croatian doctor rushes to help save Afghan lives after India Embassy blast

KABUL, Afghanistan - When a car bomb exploded outside the Indian embassy here July 7, a Croatian doctor at ISAF headquarters reacted to a natural desire to help his fellow doctors save lives.

Lieutenant Colonel Ratimir Benčić immediately called Croatia’s National Intelligence Cell here, which promptly provided him with an armoured vehicle and shuttled him to the National Military Hospital, the country’s premier medical trauma centre.

After a brief meeting with ANA’s Surgeon General, Major General Ahmad Zia Yeftali, Dr. Benčić headed for the emergency room, and the patients started arriving. The suicide blast had killed 42 and injured 147. Soon every trauma hospital in Kabul would be at or near capacity.

With consent of General Yeftali, Dr. Benčić took over triage, or choosing which patients needed treatment first in order to save lives.

“Triage is a very nasty job. You have to decide who to help. And it has to be quick,” said Dr. Benčić, who has been a general medical practitioner since finishing medical school from the University of Zagreb and gained casualty triage experience on the battlefield during the Croatian Homeland War.

Most of the patients had what he called “secondary blast trauma.” While no weapons fire had taken place, the blast sent bits of metal, wood and glass flying with the same effect as bullets.

“These four patients,” Benčić recalled, “had primary and secondary blast trauma like open fractures, blast injury, penetrating abdominal and chest wounds, at the same time. So very difficult conditions. But ... they are alive today.”

The doctor quickly examined each patient to determine who needed immediate treatment and was stable enough to be transported to the French and Czech Republic’s military hospitals. Doing so relieved the National Military Hospital from the most difficult casualties and gave the main hospital time, space and opportunity to provide medical treatment to more of the incoming patients.

Even with 4 1/2 years of combat medical experience during the Croatian Homeland War, Dr. Benčić said the emotion he feels never changes.

“It is no different, even if you have 20 years of experience,” he said. “When you are a doctor you are ready to help people, and when you see a patient in need you will help, that's why you are there, and you are trained to do that. So it is like a normal professional reaction.”

Though his quick evaluation of the patients likely saved lives, he remains modest

“For me personally, it is nothing special. It's my job; I'm a doctor,” said Dr. Benčić, who was also awarded a Czech medal on Croatian Independence Day June 25 from the director of the Czech Hospital for his contributions and cooperation with the hospital.

Besides, he was happy to leave his office, and do what comes naturally for a doctor.

“When you do medical policy for ISAF, you don't see immediate results. You know that preventive measures or if you mentor them how to do things, it takes time to see results,” he explained. “And when you are a doctor on the spot, you see results at that moment, and you feel useful. You are doing something good.”

Dr Benčić, who was also in Afghanistan in 2006, also credited the vastly improved capabilities in Afghanistan’s medical community. He explained that the stabilizing first aid at the scene, the doctors and nurses noticing and fixing fractures in the hospital that weren’t noticed during the chaos of the scene, and the Afghanistan medical system’s ability to transport all patients to one main hospital then transport them again to the other hospitals after evaluation, were all signs of a dramatically improved system.

“That is something that I appreciate,” he said. “They are learning from us. They implement what we give them, and they are trying their best to improve the situation here. I saw it, and I saw the difference in two years. It is improving rapidly.”

He credits this improvement to the mentorship from the international community, especially ISAF and Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.

“They deserve help,” Dr. Benčić said. “They deserve a decent life, all the people in Afghanistan, and they want for their children the best, like we want for our children.”

Contact Information ISAF Public Information Office
Tel: +93 (0)79 51 1155 - Mobile: 0093 (0) 799 55 8291 pressoffice@hq.isaf.nato.int - www.nato.int/isaf/