HOLMDEL, NJ: There are heroes among us. Every day men and women who do extraordinary things with grace, modesty and an inner strength that is a model for current and future generations. Worldwide crises, striking close to home, beckon action from those who possess the talent to help and the passion to make a difference. That is this story.
For seven years we have heard and read about the decimation of the Syrian people. Nearly half a million lives lost since the civil war began in 2011. According to the UN High Commissioner, since the war began in 2011, over 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees, and 6.1 million are displaced internally. Imagine being removed suddenly from your home, maybe with a suitcase of belongings, maybe carrying your children on your back and not knowing how you are going to feed them. These are families who were once living very similar lives to those in the U.S. Many in Syria were living regular middle class lives, educated, working, taking care of their families with high aspirations... We hear about the bloodshed, see it on the news, think about it, maybe we wish we could do something, maybe we stop and say a prayer. Maybe we think we are helpless beyond that.
There is one person in town who takes it way beyond a thought and a prayer and that man of action is Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Salem 'Sal' Samra of Holmdel. Dr. Samra recently traveled to Amman, Jordan, with 50 volunteers from the U.S. and many other countries, as part of a humanitarian effort with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). According to their website, 'SAMS is a nonpolitical, nonprofit medical relief organization that is working on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria and neighboring countries to alleviate suffering and save lives. SAMS provides medical care and treatment to every patient in need who they come across. In 2016, SAMS provided medical service to over 3 million individuals.'
The Samra family, has a plastic surgery practice in Holmdel, Samra Plastic Surgery, founded in 1982, by Dr. Sal Samra's father; Dr. Said Samra, who moved to the United States from Syria in the late 70's. Samra Plastic Surgery specializes in cosmetic, reconstructive, and hand surgery. Dr.Sal Samra's brother, Dr. Fares Samra, a resident in plastic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, also joined the surgical mission to Amman, Jordan in April. For Dr. Sal Samra, this was his third surgical mission to Amman, Jordan. He first volunteered as a surgeon with SAMS, in 2013, and again in 2015, and most recently in early April of 2018. Dr. Sal Samra comments, "We were there with an amazing team of volunteers working together to perform 20 surgeries in one week. It is so rewarding for us to go to Syria and feel like we are making an impact. As a Syrian American watching the conflict you feel helpless. It's a drop in the ocean but it is something, and something is better than nothing."
Dr. Sal Samra and his brother Dr. Fares Samra, along with other plastic surgeons from various countries who were part of the SAMS volunteer team performed 20 surgeries, including cleft lip corrections on babies, and on one teenager, who post surgery is now able to eat and swallow his food properly, which is something previously he could never do. The more intense surgeries included reconstructive surgery for a woman who had a double breast mastectomy. There were significant surgeries performed on children who had suffered burns. Dr. Sal Samra comments, "When I first participated in the surgical mission in 2013 I was treating acute trauma, war injuries, children who had limbs blown off. There was much of the same in 2015, but in 2018 Jordan has closed it's doors to more refugees, so acute traumas are not coming over the border to Jordan anymore, they are going to Turkey instead. So this most recent mission was what I would call 'refugee healthcare'. There was one little boy who had been badly burned on his arms, which made it difficult for him to use his arms normally. A few years ago the burns I treated on children were from war injuries. This child's burns came from a fire that was started in a refugee camp from a malfunctioning heater. We now have children growing up in refugee camps." When asked if he would be returning to work again as a volunteer with SAMS, Dr. Sal Samra comments, "The devastation is so significant in Syria, I feel this SAMS mission is going to be a life long commitment for me. We have four plastic surgeons in our family, so I'm hoping every year a couple of us can go to help out."
For more information on the Syrian American Medical Society or to make a donation to SAMS TAP here
Salem Samra, MD, FAC
Dr. Salem Samra was born and raised in New Jersey where he graduated as Valedictorian from the 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 went on to attend medical school at the Baylor College of Medicine where he graduated with high honors, Alpha Omega Alpha, 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.
Dr. Samra joined The Samra Group on July 1, 2013. He is on the medical staff of Bayshore Community Hospital, Riverview Medical Center, Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Raritan Bay Medical Center (Old Bridge and Perth Amboy Divisions), and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. Dr. Samra is trained in the full spectrum of plastic surgery including: craniofacial surgery, breast reconstruction, reconstructive oncology, body contouring, burn surgery, wound care, cosmetic surgery, and has particular expertise in hand and microsurgery after his fellowship training at Yale. The fellowship consisted of a one-year immersion in the orthopedic and plastic reconstructive procedures of the wrist, hand and fingers as well as peripheral nerve surgery and microsurgical reconstruction of complex defects using free tissue transfers.
Dr. Samra has participated in many international surgical missions. The first was in November of 2011 when he traveled to Pereira, Colombia with the group Changing Children’s Lives. There he performed numerous craniofacial reconstructive surgeries on both children and young adults with cleft lip, cleft palate, and other craniofacial deformities. In March of 2013, along with Hand Help, Inc., he traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras for one week to perform hand surgeries on patients in need. The procedures involved complex reconstructive hand surgeries on patients (adults and children) with delayed presentations of nerve and tendon injuries as well as congenital deformities. With the Syrian American Medical Society, Dr. Samra has traveled twice to Amman, Jordan to treat Syrian refugees fleeing conflict in their homeland. His first trip was in May of 2013 and then he re-visited Amman in March of 2015. In Jordan he has performed various procedures including lower extremity reconstruction, craniofacial surgery, flap reconstruction of pressure sores in spinal cord injury patients, and complex reconstructive hand surgeries including bone, tendon, and nerve grafting.
With an international perspective and a local upbringing, Dr. Samra is pleased to serve his native community of central New Jersey, implementing his skills in plastic, reconstructive, and hand surgery.
He is board certified in plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, with an additional sub-specialty certification in hand surgery.
If you would like to email Dr. Salem Samra, email him by TAPing here.