By Sarah Watson
Brad Erickson, a University of Iowa surgeon and associate professor of urology, shared his experiences performing surgery at a free medical clinic in the Middle East in a discussion series put on by the UI Center of Human Rights on Thursday in the Main Library.
Erickson first served in West Bank six years ago, and he has been back nearly every year since. The area, a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast in the Middle East, has endured a conflict between Israel and Palestinians. Each have claimed the land since the 20th century.
The Alia Government Hospital in Hebron, the largest city in West Bank, needed a constructive urologist, so Erickson joined a team of six surgeons for a 10-day humanitarian expedition when asked by a friend. Erickson traveled with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.
Every time Erickson travels to the area, he works with a team of surgeons from the U.S. collaborating with West Bank surgeons to perform approximately 40 to 50 surgeries — around four to five a day. He said the goal of the mission is not only to help patients but also to train the doctors and surgeons working in the area.
When he travels to the West Bank, he brings with him only two pairs of Jarit scissors, 15-year-old operating loupes, and a few boxes of stitches. He said he doesn’t want to convey to the doctors they need a lot of expensive equipment to do the types of surgeries he is there to perform.
“I hope with every trip that they will become more self-sufficient, and I will be able to teach them something that they can eventually do without me being there,” Erickson said.
In between complicated urethra surgeries, Erickson said, the surgeons will break for coffee, tea, and just talk about their lives. Although he said the work he does as a surgeon is extremely rewarding, one of his favorite parts of the experience are these quiet coffee breaks.
“Time after the cases is as much celebratory as it is educational,” Erickson said. “We’ll talk about what we just did, what we’ll talk about the next case, but then in those other down minutes, that’s when they’ll talk to us about their families, about their struggles, and talk to us about the [Israel-Palestine] conflict.”
The West Bank wasn’t Erickson’s first adventure in serving internationally. As a medical student and as a physician, he’s also traveled to Mexico, Guatemala, Kenya, and Egypt to give humanitarian aid.
The event was the final session in the One Community, One Book Extended Discussion Series hosted by the UI Center for Human Rights. This year the topic of conversation was Islamic culture. Other events included a lecture by G. Willow Wilson, whose book was discussed.
“I am a global-health major so everything he is talking about is fascinating to me, like hearing his experience working in a hospital in Palestine,” Emma Sherman said.
She is a sophomore taking the One Community, One Book Extended Discussion Series, a one-credit class taught by Kathrina Litchfield.
“I hope that his talk will first of all clear up some confusion about what is happening there and try to understand from a human and emotional experience of what it is like to be a human being in a conflict,” Litchfield said.