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British Army radiographer feels rewards of earthquake relief work

Being able to help survivors of the earthquake in Turkey, and the gratitude shown by the people he is treating, has left a British Army radiographer feeling that “humanity is still beautiful”.

Sergeant Lewis has deployed as part of the medical treatment facility set up by 16 Medical Regiment at Türkoğlu, a town close to the epicentre of the devastating earthquake.

The 30-year-old was put to work within minutes of arriving at the site of the facility last Monday 13 February and, for the first few days, was the only working radiographer in a 180-mile radius.

Sgt Lewis said: “The bus pulled up and I was taken straight up to the Turkish clinic, where there was an x-ray machine and no-one to operate it, but a long queue of patients. It turned out that the machine wasn’t working, so I got my equipment off the wagon, set up and started. It’s been non-stop since.

“There have been a lot of crush injuries, from people who got trapped in buildings or hit by falling rubble and have then had to make their way to the clinic from some distance away.”

The hospital at Türkoğlu - where 16 Medical Regiment are set up alongside a Turkish and UK emergency medical team - had a radiology department with 12 full-time staff before the earthquake struck.

“Unfortunately, the building is too damaged to re-open and none of the radiographers have come back to work – in fact, the first patient I x-rayed was one of the radiographers who had a broken back,” Sgt Lewis, from Aberdare, said.

“That was quite an eye-opener – you think that the healthcare system is in a protected bubble, but it’s not. Everyone and everything has been affected by the earthquake.”

Colchester-based 16 Medical Regiment’s core role is to provide medical support to 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, the British Army's global response force, and it is trained and equipped to deploy at short notice by parachute, helicopter, or air landing.

Sgt Lewis, who plays second row for the Army and London Scottish rugby teams, said: “It is very difficult to achieve a work-life balance when you’re in a high readiness role, but how the unit is set up for it is brilliant and London Scottish are very understanding about my military commitments.

“The gratitude I’ve had from patients has been amazing and I feel I’m helping by being here, and that’s my reward. I’d like to think that if the shoe was on the other foot, people would be there for us as we are here for the Turkish people and we would show the same appreciation. That’s what I’m going to take away from this operation, that humanity is still beautiful.”

The UK’s response to the earthquake is led by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, with the military contribution commanded by Joint Force Headquarters. A specialist team held at high readiness to provide expertise in operational delivery, logistics and communications arrived in Turkey three days after the earthquake to work with the British Embassy in Ankara.

Humanitarian aid, including tents and thousands of thermal blankets, has been delivered by the RAF. A Critical Care Air Support Team able to move critically ill patients by air has deployed in a C130 Hercules.