Photography: Tim Bauer

VOL. 59 NO.3 October 2019

It was just another day for Munjed Al Muderis. The year was 1999, the place was Iraq’s capital Baghdad. The aspiring surgeon went to work at what was then known as Saddam University Hospital.

“There were three busloads of army deserters brought to the theatre complex escorted by Republican Guards and Ba’ath Party members. They ordered us to start mutilating these army deserters by chopping parts of their ears off,” he remembers.

This marked a turning point in Munjed’s life. Having witnessed the fatal consequences of disobeying orders, Munjed faced his most challenging decision.

"Should I obey the commands and live with guilt for the rest of my life? Should I refuse and end up with a bullet in my head? Should I escape?"

Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis

He sought refuge in the women’s toilet for five hours, before managing to escape the hospital, flee Iraq and begin his treacherous journey to seek asylum. “I ended up being smuggled through the borders to Jordan, from Jordan to Malaysia to Indonesia and then eventually managed to find a people smuggler and I ended up on a leaky boat that wasn’t seaworthy bound for Christmas Island.”

His once rather privileged life in Iraq became a distant memory. Munjed spent 10 months in Western Australia’s Curtin Immigration Detention Centre, which he describes as hell – a place where he was stripped of his human identity. “I was marked with a permanent marker on my shoulder with a number ‘982’ and that became my name for the rest of the time in detention centre.”

Fast forward to his release from detention. Despite the many challenges ahead of him, Munjed had his heart and mind set on success and pursuing his dream of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon

"The challenges varied from just trying to be recognised to being accepted as the way I am, the way I look, the way I talk."

Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis

"Then the challenges become bigger when I started my progress in developing the technology that I wanted to develop and facing a very conservative peer and medical system.”

Becoming one of Australia’s leading orthopaedic surgeons

Munjed’s determination, passion and hard work paid off. He has paved his way to becoming one of Australia’s leading orthopaedic surgeons and for his involvement in pioneering a revolutionary technology called osseointegration, which connects a living bone with a metal implant. Through the surgery that Munjed conducts, above and below the knee amputees are fitted with a robotic leg implant, which according to him, gives amputees greater mobility, comfort and quality of life.

Specialising in hip, knee and trauma surgery, the Sydney-based surgeon treats a diverse range of patients from those who have suffered from various illnesses to Bali bombing victims to soldiers.


"We started treating veterans when there was a request from the Ministry of Defence in the United Kingdom and that was the first challenge. That then expanded to American veterans and other nationalities."

Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis

His work even caught the attention of the Iraqi government and in 2017, he was invited back to operate on soldiers and civilians. Having called Australia home for many years, there was never a temptation to return to his former homeland. As the plane descended into Baghdad International Airport, Munjed recalls thinking “holy shit, what have I done to myself?”

“There they are, striving to have expertise. Their country is a mess. It’s run by religious lunatics and it’s basically a battle ground between Iran and Saudi Arabia with their ideologies and unfortunately the victims are the Iraqi people.”

Munjed and his team of experts do not travel light. With a hint of sarcasm, he explains. “We bring a lot of equipment with us every time we go. Like last time, I had 250 kilograms of excess luggage and the airline kindly gave me a discount of five kilograms!”

“We’ve been to Iraq seven or eight times now and every time we spend around a week. One time we spent around three weeks and we’ve operated on around 500 cases now in Iraq. We do a lot of surgeries and do everything under the sun of complex deformities. It’s very rewarding, very challenging and very physically tiring.”

"I must admit, it is extremely rewarding because these people have suffered horrific injuries defending their country and giving them their life back is extremely rewarding. But at the same time, they are very challenging cases because they are patients who are extremely traumatised physically and mentally."

Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis

While some of his patients from around the world may view their limb loss almost as a blessing - a lifesaving measure to save them from the grips of an illness like cancer - the Associate Professor explains that a patient who has suffered a traumatic injury loses their privileges in an instant.

"A minute before their trauma, they were able bodied. When it comes to soldiers, they are super able bodied. They’ve been physically superior to others."

Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis

He describes himself as a small link in the chain in their road to recovery. “Trying to get them out of that hole of psychological post-traumatic disorder is a huge task. We provide them with psychological support, pain management support, physical support.”

Munjed himself is often not left untouched by those he helps. “The highlight and the major impression that’s left in my mind is not about particular cases, but it’s the families surrounding them."

"I remember this soldier I treated. When his young son saw him walking, he said ‘this is not daddy, daddy doesn’t walk.’ When a 4 year old couldn’t recognise his father because he has never seen his father vertical…these are the things that leave a huge impression."

Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis

*You can read more about Associate Professor Munjed Al Muderis in his two books “Walking Free” and “Going Back”.