Dr.Tourle tells us about his brilliant charity, Iasis Medical, and their incredible work in places of conflict around the world which lead to him being awarded an MBE in the Queen's Honours List
I was born and brought up in Horsmonden in 1942 in the middle of the last war, from this time I very faintly remember my mother pushing me under the stairs when the RAF were chasing a flying bomb overhead.
I attended the local primary school in Horsmonden and I was fortunate enough to pass the 11 plus examination. I was turned down by Cranbrook School, but Frank Taylor the headmaster at Judd was more kindly. I started in form 1A in September 1953 the year of the Queen’s Coronation. I had no idea what career I should aim for.
At fifteen and a half, I was interviewed by the careers master - ‘You are cut out for insurance’ he told me! My heart sank.
My whole life was changed by a television programme in January 1958 where a doctor in a western film delivered a baby heroically - I never dreamed that one day I was destined to do the same thing.
We were about to take our O level exams in the summer and whilst I was a very average pupil at that stage, I tried very hard and was enormously grateful to get 8 O levels and go into the science stream.
I was accepted at King's College Hospital and qualified in January 1965. I spent two years in hospital in various specialties, as a junior doctor. I began my life as a full time GP in Hailsham in 1968. I was to remain a full time GP there for the next 32 years, but I was always slightly restless. One of my colleagues at the practice had gone to work in Canada and in 1972 he invited me there to do a locum for a few weeks. I loved it and over the next ten years I did six locums abroad: five in Canada (mostly in Manitoba, and British Columbia) and one in Zambia for the Zambia Flying Doctor Service. It was slightly more demanding than in Britain as they were remote areas and I was performing complicated procedures like delivering babies etc.
The first story that comes to mind, came from these years in Canada. I was working in ‘Norway House’ which is about 120 miles north of Winnipeg, a remote village where, at that time, nearly all the population was Cree Indian. In February the temperature drops to minus 20 degrees. One Sunday night a lady called Ruby, aged 27, came in to the surgery experiencing early labour. Unfortunately the baby was a breech (which means the baby was positioned to come out bottom first instead of head first which it’s supposed to). I had done obstetrics as a house surgeon and breeches can be difficult so I phoned the obstetrician in Winnipeg who said, “Can you fly her down? It’s a 2hr flight in a small aircraft.” So that’s what a nurse and I did!
It was very cold, dark and extremely noisy in the plane. I sat in the front of the plane with the pilot and the nurse stayed with Ruby in the cramped rear. One hour into the flight, the nurse said, “She wants to push doc!” I climbed into the back where there was very little room and very poor lighting with just a dim orange bulb, which made it even more difficult because I couldn’t see.
With difficulty I got one of the baby’s leg out then the other but unfortunately the baby’s head got stuck. When this happens, you only have about 7 minutes because the cord is squashed, so the baby is at risk of getting brain damage. I probably took 5 minutes to deliver the baby – which was very close to the critical deadline and was an extremely stressful situation.
The baby was born and she was a healthy little girl! Ruby called her Angel because she was born in the sky.
About this time I volunteered to go to Zambia and work for the Zambian Flying Doctor Service – this time on my own with no English nurses and miles away from anywhere.
At Christmas time in 1990, my life changed direction. I met someone at a Christmas Party who said, “Colin will you come to Romania with us and examine children in a Romanian orphanage?” Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator, had been killed 12 months before. He had created 800 appalling orphanages. Anita Roddick was the boss of ‘The Body Shop’ and had created a relief team to go to an orphanage in Hălăucești, Romania where they needed a doctor.
In April 1991 I flew to Romania. I stayed with three nurses and a student in a small bungalow. Over the course of three weeks I examined 500 orphan children. I also helped the local Romanian GP who did his rounds with a horse and cart.
In 1992 I was invited to go back to Romania to take blood from 2,500 orphans to screen them for HIV. There were many stories and photographs I can show about this time. In this photo the child with tears running down his face was taken at a dreadful orphanage at Hârlău – there were many handicapped children, sometimes two in a cot. The conditions were so appalling that when we left there and got back into the Landover the nurses were crying as what we had witnessed had been so traumatic. One of them had a hymn book and we sang hymns. We sang ‘Shine Jesus Shine’.
A year later on the TV programme, ‘Songs of Praise,’ they asked for people’s favourite hymns. I wrote and told them of this story. We were chosen to go to Coventry Cathedral and my little team were interviewed in front of 800 people – afterwards they sang “Shine Jesus Shine.” It was a very moving occasion.
It was this trip that sowed the seeds of our charity. Anita Roddick had left ‘The Body Shop’ and we had to stand on our own feet. We wanted a name for our charity and at the time we had a Greek lady working with us who said the Greek word, “Iasis” means to cure or make whole, so we called our charity “Iasis Medical”.
In 1996 this was the time we became very interested in visual problems so I went to Moorfields Eye hospital in London and took some people from Moorefields to do an eye vision screening programme in many of the orphanages we had been to.
This led us to the war in Bosnia, where we re-equipped the badly damaged blind school in Sarajevo, which had been besieged by the Serbs for 3 years. When we arrived, the siege had finished a few months before and about 15,000 people were killed. The place was full of minefields, NATO soldiers and broken glass. We were involved in re-building the blind school and our charity examined 70 children and provided the specialist lenses and magnifiers that they needed. These were all made here in Britain and we took them out to Sarajevo especially for the children.
Two years later we were in neighbouring Albania, when the war in Kosovo was raging, looking after the refugees as they flooded over the border.
After Kosovo we went to East Timor in Indonesia where there had been a bloody occupation by the Indonesians. As part of the United Nations relief effort, we were looking after the people of an island called Atauro. This was possibly the most colourful and most dangerous trip.
We went to Northern Thailand to help look after the Burmese refugees where many had lost legs due to landmines.
We had four trips to the Amazon to look after the Indians in the rain forest.
In 2006 we had the first of nine visits to Mekelle in Northern Ethiopia where we have done a great deal to help the eye surgeon run the cataract programme, which has been giving up to 4,000 patients a year their sight back.
We also went to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and after this we had our first of four trips to Port-au-Prince with a team of American doctors to care for the poor people in Cite Soleil - an extremely impoverished and densely populated commune.
Remembering our visits to the Syrian refugees in Lebanon - I enclose a photograph of baby Ahmed. He was born on 6th Feb 2017. His mother escaped from Deir el Zur in eastern Syria. They had to escape by night. At that time they were surrounded by Isis and whilst she was heavily pregnant, she had to cross 200 miles of Syria to get to Lebanon. Unfortunately the border is a 7,000 foot high mountain range called the ‘Anti-Lebanon range’ . In April the top is covered with snow. Unfortunately she went into labour during the hard treck over the mountain range and gave birth to Ahmed in a small building up in the mountains. The next day she came down to the refugee camp. When I saw them thankfully, they were fine.
This photo is of a collapsed man on a plane was from a more recent event:
Two years ago I was flying to Beirut with my friend Dr Nikesh, another GP. We were about two thirds of the way when there was sudden shouting in the plane in the aisle just behind us. I heard someone shout ‘doctor!’ I said, “Nikesh we are wanted!”
A Lebanese man of about 70 had collapsed in the aisle. I went back to him and the stewardess gave me the medical box which had a stethoscope. It was useless. Fortunately my doctor’s bag was with me in the overhead lockers. I listened to his heart. He was obviously very ill with a heart attack. They wanted to move him and I wouldn’t let them - instead we kept him still and gave oxygen. They wanted to use a defibrillator I said whatever you do don’t press the button you will kill him and me. I was sitting on him to prevent them from doing so. After 15 minutes the plane turned sharply and went down. We landed at Istanbul. The door opened and a crowd of Turkish doctors rushed on board.
They took him off and we know got to hospital alive, because they radioed us and told us. We did very well out of it because we were moved to business class with all the champagne we wanted.
Two weeks later there was a very nice letter from British Airways with two free club class tickets to Europe!
In 2019 we completed our fifth medical trip to the Syrian refugees on the Labanese side of the border with Syria. We have helped to care for many women and children from all over Syria - barrel bombed, captured by Isis, there are many awful stories.
The next trip of our medical charity -Iasis Medical - will be our 59th medical trip abroad!
I received a letter from the Foreign Office in May 2017 to say that I was to be appointed MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for medical work abroad. It was an immense honour to go to Buckingham Palace and meet Princess Anne.
I have been enormously privileged to have had such a rich and rewarding life. I have been involved with treating many hundreds of people from all parts of the world. The two great foundations of my life have been - The Judd School and King's College Hospital.
Looking back on my life, and the message I would like to get out to prospective medical students going through Judd and/ or having been through medical school is, how much doctors are needed in war-torn and poverty-stricken places like this.
Medics are desperately needed. In the camps where I go near Zahle, there are no regular doctors at all. We help an American nurse from a church charity. When I went last year I asked her,”Mary, when did you last have a doctor here?” she replied, “When you were here last summer, Colin!”
Everyone asks where Iasis gets its money to work abroad. Mostly it is from me giving talks to churches, schools, Rotary clubs. We have also been given money at funerals, weddings and been remembered in people's wills. In thirty years somehow the money has come in to let us continue our mission, thankfully.
If anyone would like to contribute to the work of Iasis Medical, donations can easily be made through CAF Bank as follows:
Access : cafonline.org.uk
Press "DONATE TO A CHARITY " button.
Enter either IASIS Medical or the charity no. 1118660 and please follow the instructions.
Or via chequ and posted to:
Iasis Medical [charity no1118660]
The Shire House
Lewes BN8 6LP
The Judd School are so proud to be mentioned in Dr. Tourle's story as having contributed a little to his increadible career journey and to have helped his early education in becoming a doctor and helping so many people around the world. Please do get in touch with the OJ Community if you would like to make contact with Dr. Tourle or contact him through the OJ Community networking page
We are hoping Dr. Tourle will come in to talk to the 6th Form and share his incredible experiences with them when we are all allowed to work normally again.
If you are an OJ and would like to inspire Judd students or recent leavers with your story, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.