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Gibraltar mourns GHA doctor who died in Turkey earthquake

GHA staff gather outside St Bernard's Hospital. Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

Flags were lowered and a minute’s silence was held outside St Bernard’s Hospital and No.6 Convent Place on Monday in memory of GHA surgeon Dr George Chami and the 37,000 people who have so far died in an earthquake that devastated swathes of Turkey and Syria.

Dr Chami’s body was recovered on Sunday within the collapsed apartment block he was staying in while visiting Antakya in southern Turkey.

The hope to find survivors amongst the collapsed buildings is dwindling as the days pass following the magnitude 7.8 earthquake, with Syria and Turkey reporting the rescue phase is coming to a close.

In Gibraltar at midday on Monday, Dr Chami’s colleagues at the GHA mourned a colleague they described as a very good doctor and friend.

The Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia and Chief Secretary Darren Grech Ministers stood outside No.6 Convent Place as they too marked the tragic loss of life outside.

Officers and staff of the Royal Gibraltar Police also held a minute’s silence at New Mole House to pay their respects.

“We've lost a good friend, a colleague who was a very, very good doctor for his patients and a member of the team,” said Director General Professor Patrick Geoghegan.

Prof Geoghegan led the minute’s silence where over 100 people including the Minister for Health, Albert Isola, marked their respects.

Among those on the steps of the hospital were Dr Chami’s departmental colleagues Rose Montovio and Sarah Mendez.

Ms Montovio has been working in the orthopaedics department for 18 years and worked alongside Dr Chami for five years.

“I was working with him and with my colleague, Sarah. We're very close,” she said.

“He was a lovely person. He was a super surgeon, a fantastic foot and ankle surgeon who was humble. He was lovely.”

Ms Montovio was not on shift on Monday and felt for her team, who working despite their grief for a colleague they held in high regard.

“It must be hard for them,” she said.

Ms Mendez was Dr Chami’s clinic nurse who ran the orthopaedic department before she retired just a few weeks ago.

“When he started in January 2018, I took over with him and I was his nurse for five years,” Ms Mendez told the Chronicle.

“I’m very devastated, he wasn’t just a colleague, he was a friend. He was very much part of the team and he liked to integrate with us socially and go out.”

“So, he was one of us.”

“He was a very kind person.”

Reflecting on fond memories she has of Dr Chami, she remembered his kindness.

“He used to bring me a roll every morning and a cup of coffee. You don’t often get that from a surgeon.”

Prof Geoghegan described the mood within the hospital as sombre.

“The team just feel something's been taken away from them and I think what was really nice about ‘Chammies’, we used to call him, was, yes, he was a doctor, but socially he mixed with the staff as well.”

“So, it's a kind of a real friendship among his colleagues, sort of like losing a member of the family.”

The orthopaedic department was open on Monday and Prof Geoghegan said it is what the staff wanted and what Dr Chami would have also wanted.

“People are coping. We've offered support, any psychological support they need. If they need to talk to someone, we're going to reach out to them,” he said.

“But I think they're being brave because it's what he would want as well, to see his patients. I'm sure if he's up there looking down at us, I'm sure he's smiling and saying ‘get on with life’.”

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