Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 June 2007
Issue No. 850
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

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After saving the life of a footballer, Rania Radwan overnight became what one columnist called Egypt's most famous doctor. She speaks to Reem Leila about the thin line dividing life and the afterlife

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Seddik in the ambulance; life-saver Radwan

Mohamed Seddik is back on the football field. The Ahli central defender returned to training this week but will do so by himself for awhile for fear of suffering hard knocks from overzealous teammates. But it's doubtful Seddik is complaining; the 29-year-old is lucky to be training at all.

On 8 June Seddik had the nation holding its collective breath after he was knocked out cold following a mid-air collision during a quarter- final cup match with Al-Geish.

Towards the end of the half, Seddik and goalkeeper Wa'el Khalifa arrived at just about the same time for a cross. After crashing into each other, Seddik landed hard on the ground. He immediately lost consciousness and went into coma after his body writhed for a few seconds in spasms. Players and coaches from both sides surrounded the fallen player who by now was in imminent peril of swallowing his tongue and being asphyxiated.

When the worst became apparent, players and coaches became visibly shaken. Some buried their hands in their faces and slapped their hands repeatedly in disbelief. For several minutes that stretched forever, Cairo Stadium and those watching the horror show on TV stood still.

It was happening again.

In August last year, another Ahli player, Egyptian international Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, died of a sudden heart attack while training, his life stilled forever at age 23.

Abdel-Wahab's death shocked the nation but there would be no repeat this time, thanks to a petite heroine with a big dose of courage.

Himself teary-eyed, referee Fahim Omar gave the signal to emergency doctor Rania Radwan and her ambulance team to come onto the Cairo Stadium field. Crediting her small frame for being able to penetrate the multitudes enveloping Seddik, Radwan knew every second counted.

"Brain cells start dying five minutes after lack of oxygen," Radwan told Al-Ahram Weekly. She used up four minutes. As chaos reigned around her, Radwan, 25, stayed focused, calmly inserting an airway tube down Seddik's throat to keep him breathing and to force him to cough out his tongue.

In the mayhem, Radwan found difficulty in communicating with her assistant, the ambulance attendant Sherif Abdel-Moneim. People all over the place not only blocked her path to Seddik but trampled over the equipment that had been in the emergency bag. "Medical utensils were everywhere on the ground, but thank God Radwan rescued his life in the first phase," Abdel-Moneim told the Weekly. "Players were stepping on my hands and I was unable to hand Radwan the equipment she was asking for," Abdel-Moneim said.

Only after Seddik coughed up his tongue and started breathing was he rushed to the nearest hospital and admitted into intensive care for one night where he underwent a CT scan and other tests. On his way to the hospital, Seddik's vital signs were being monitored in the ambulance.

Radwan, who accompanied Seddik throughout the ordeal, said the ambulance had arrived at the field on time, negating an earlier comment she made on a live TV show that the ambulance had been delayed by stadium security.

Radwan said she was proud of what she had done. "It was the first time for me to rescue a patient in front of thousands of people and the first time to be commissioned by the Cairo Emergency Authority (ECA) as an emergency doctor in a football match."

Radwan had some harsh words for some of her doctor colleagues for not giving her what she called "a quick hand" and "screaming all the time" at here to back off to allow them to save Seddik. "If it were not for God's help, my high concentration and not following the instructions of the other physicians, Seddik would not have made it," she flatly asserts.

Just before the ambulance left, Ahli's Portuguese coach Manuel Jose vigorously shook Radwan's hand, commending her for a job well done. Jose later said he had seen in his football career six players who had swallowed their tongue.

Shortly after the incident, Gamal Mubarak, the deputy vice-president of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and President Mubarak's son, who had been watching the proceedings unfold on TV, phoned Ahli club to check on Seddik's health. A call from the interior minister would also follow.

Since the event Radwan's life has become the stuff of dreams. She has become a full-fledged media darling, appearing on several TV talk shows and almost all the newspapers and magazines.

According to Abdel-Rahman Shaheen, official spokesman at the health ministry, Radwan made optimum use of the "golden minutes before damage to the brain cells starts. For Seddik it was only one more minute and then he could have suffered serious health consequences."

For their efforts, Radwan, Abdel-Moneim and the ambulance driver were given a three-month salary bonus by the minister of health who will also help Radwan to take an advanced course in emergency treatment in the United Kingdom. Abdel-Moneim in particular is no stranger to being rewarded while on call. He had previously been dubbed "the honest ambulance worker" and had been added on the Health Ministry's pilgrimage list after finding and returning LE46,000 lost by its owners.

The health minister came in for criticism in some circles for the rewards, claiming the saviors had been given too much, and for only doing their job. However, claimed Shaheen, had Radwan and company not been able to save Seddik, "they would have been butchered."

Shaheen added that as a consequence of Seddik's near-death experience, LE1 billion will go to upgrading the country's Emergency Authority for accidents of all sorts.

Meantime, on Sunday, Seddik was traded to Misri club. The shift, from Egyptian league champions Ahli to Misri, which was almost relegated this season, is seismic. But at least Seddik is still playing. At least he is still alive.

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