The pictures are horrifying. The cruelty is beyond imagination. The suffering is real. The strife being endured by thousands of innocent people in Syria is compelling, and only a very few have been able to make a hands-on difference to the refugees of war. Drs. Salem and Fares Samra of Samra Plastic Surgery of Holmdel and Old Bridge are two of those people. They spent the week of March 30 to April 7 participating in a medical mission conducted by the Syrian American Medical Society, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian relief to Syrians affected by the conflict.
More than 50 medical volunteers from around the globe traveled to Jordan to perform a wide variety of medical treatments. Dr. Salem and his brother, Dr. Fares Samra, who is chief resident of Plastic Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, provided reconstructive plastic surgery. In Jordan, they were joined by a plastic surgeon from Brazil and another from Syria who came to learn their techniques so they can continue the work in Syria.
Together they provided more than 20 plastic surgery procedures including craniofacial surgeries, cleft lip and palate restoration, burn surgery, breast reconstruction for a breast cancer patient, wound care surgery for a spinal cord injury patient, and also hand surgery including tendon reconstruction.
This is Dr. Samra’s third humanitarian mission. The first was in 2013, the second in 2015 and now this in 2018. Dr. Samra, born in the United States, is of Syrian descent. His mother and father grew up in Damascus. They came to the U.S. after completing medical school and completed their training in pediatrics and plastic surgery in New Jersey. They are practicing physicians at the Samra Group.
Dr. Salem Samra understands Arabic and was able to communicate using his broken Arabic language skills. “Many refugees of the Syrian conflict have relocated to Jordan. We were operating in a private hospital in the capital city,” he said. “All of the patient’s hospital expenses were paid for by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and all the medical volunteers donated their time and talent for no fees.
“Meeting these people and hearing their stories personally really makes you appreciate the deepness of the scale of suffering from the conflict,” Samra said. “These are regular people with regular lives who have uprooted themselves with next to nothing and been forced to live in refugee camps. It’s very impactful to see it firsthand. You can’t help but feel helpless when you watch it on the news, but being able to go there and treat people made me feel like I was making a contribution.
“My hope is to go regularly,” he added. “The number of affected people is so vast. We have four plastic surgeons in the family, and we hope that each year some combination of the family will be able to go there and help.”
Dr. Salem Samra was born and raised in New Jersey and was valedictorian at Ranney School. He completed a double major in the Biological Basis of Behavior and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude/Phi Beta Kappa. He earned high honors at the Baylor College of Medicine and received the prestigious DeBakey Scholar Award. He completed a six-year residency in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Yale University and stayed on to complete a fellowship in Hand and Microsurgery at Yale. During his training, Dr. Samra published numerous papers in plastic and hand surgery and presented his research at multiple regional and national meetings.
He encourages anyone so moved to support the humanitarian efforts of SAMS to visit sams-usa.net. Medical missions are organized quarterly. Physicians, nurses, dentists and medical professionals are invited to volunteer. People can also donate through the website. Additionally, Dr. Samra is available to speak to groups about his experiences in Syria. Visit samraplasticsurgery.com or email Dr. Salem Samra, at firstname.lastname@example.org.