Medic puts machete attack behind her

Dr Claire French will graduate from Otago University with a bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Dr Claire French will graduate from Otago University with a bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery. Photo / Otago Daily Times

When medical student Claire French was attacked and left for dead by machete-wielding robbers in Tanzania last year, her planned graduation was the last thing on her mind.

"I was lying on the main street in a pool of blood, with dire injuries and no way of communicating with the outside world, and no money or anything," she said.

"I was essentially helpless."

But at that low point of her life, her luck changed. Two Tanzanian strangers drove her to a hospital, where a senior doctor secured her partly severed right hand and stayed with her to make sure she was safe.

Today Dr French, 35, an award-winning biochemistry graduate who has a PhD in anatomy from Auckland University, will graduate from Otago University with a bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery.

She is "really excited" about the ceremony, even though she is still recovering from the September attack in Tanzania, which occurred after she had completed a six-week training elective as a medical volunteer in a hospital in Arusha, near Mt Kilimanjaro.

Shortly before she was due to leave the country, she was attacked by two muggers in the city's main street in broad daylight.

Rushing up from behind, they pushed her to the ground and kicked and beat her. She was then also attacked by a third man swinging a machete.

The first two muggers also produced weapons and at one point all she could see was machetes.

The robbers wanted her backpack and after cutting its straps they ran off with it.

Her right hand was partly severed, cut to the bone in five places, and her left wrist was also injured.

Yes, this horrible thing happened to me, but I'm not going to let it dictate the way I practise medicine or lead my life.
Claire French

After receiving initial hospital treatment she flew to Canada, as planned, where she was due to undertake the second six-week phase of her training elective.

There she was operated on by plastic surgeons, who repaired her hand, and she missed only two days of her planned programme.

Dr French still receives treatment for her injuries, is still recovering and still experiences pain, but has moved on.

"Yes, this horrible thing happened to me, but I'm not going to let it dictate the way I practise medicine or lead my life in the future."

The mugging has not lowered her high opinion of Tanzania.

Her Tanzanian host family had been "incredibly good" before and after the attack, and strangers, friends and medical staff all showed her a great deal of compassion.

Dr French, who is already practising medicine as a house officer at Lower Hutt Hospital, is looking forward not only to graduation but also to "giving something back" as a medical professional caring for other people.

- Otago Daily Times

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