Story by Cassie Schoon, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Communications Volunteer
Surgery is a delicate, nerve-wracking practice in the best of circumstances. But for surgeons working in the midst of armed conflict, with improvised operating rooms and whatever tools may be at hand, surgery is an exercise in making do, doing without, and saving lives in situations where endless unknown challenges can arise. Working under these conditions became a lifelong vocation for Greek-Canadian surgeon Dr. Chris Giannou, guest speaker at a special installment of the International Services Brown Bag Lunch and Learn event at the Colorado and Wyoming Region headquarters in Denver, CO.
Dr. Giannou has operated in many high-profile conflict zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Chechnya, Lebanon, Somalia and Liberia. A former chief surgeon for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dr. Giannou will discuss his experiences in providing medical treatment in areas affected by some of the most violent conflicts of our time.
Dr. Giannou observed working conditions for doctors in the difficult circumstances while teaching in Mali, where he himself became ill and was a patient of Malian doctors who had been trained in France. Seeing local doctors struggle to provide care in facilities so different from those in which they’d been trained inspired Dr. Giannou to devote his career to the practice and study of medicine in the developing world.
Dr. Giannou’s career as a war surgeon began in Palestine. While he was working as director of the Palestine Red Crescent Society at a Palestinian refugee camp, members of a Lebanese militia attacked. Dr. Giannou’s experiences working at the camp, and being taken prisoner by the Lebanese, are detailed in his book: Besieged: A Doctor’s Story of Life and Death in Beirut. Dr. Giannou’s life work has also been featured in “On the Border of the Abyss,” a documentary film. He has been appointed to the Order of Canada, which is Canada’s second-highest national honor for merit, and received the Star of Palestine, Palestine’s highest award, for his work to provide care to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Dr. Giannou still works closely with the ICRC, authoring publications and working as a surgical consultant for the Canadian Red Cross Rapid Deployment Field Hospital Emergency Response Unit.
"We're so proud to have Dr. Giannou speak at our event," said Tim Bothe, International Services manager for the Colorado and Wyoming chapter.
For more information on the Colorado and Wyoming Region of the American Red Cross, please click here.