Brave Australian doc delivers babies in Beirut explosion
WHEN Stephanie Yacoub graduated from medical school, the last thing she expected was to be delivering babies amid a deadly blast.
The obstetrics and gynaecology resident and former Kardinia International College student gained international attention in early August delivering babies in the aftermath of the chemical explosion that rocked Beirut.
More than 180 people were killed and about 6000 injured on August 4, when a large amount of ammonium nitrate exploded at the city's port.
St George Hospital, where Dr Yacoub is completing the final year of her residency, was under 2km from the explosion.
Her story grabbed the world's attention when a video captured by expectant father Edmond Khnaisser showed the blast shattering an entire window of the maternity ward went viral.
Windows on every floor of the hospital shattered, lights blew and the pressure of the impact caused parts of the ceiling to fall down.
Amid the chaos, Dr Yacoub used the light from her mobile phone to ensure the child - George - was brought safely into the world.
"We weren't really sure if there was going to be another explosion or not," she said.
"It was a surreal experience. The impact of bringing a life into the world as other people are losing theirs is something that really hits you later."
It wasn't the only challenging delivery she faced that day. There were four expectant mothers on her ward the day of the blast.
Dr Yacoub told the Geelong Advertiser just hours later she was supervising the birth of a different mother as she sat in the trunk of a jeep racing toward another hospital.
"I was sitting in the boot of the jeep, reaching over the back seat to hold her hand," she said.
The pair made it in time and Dr Yacoub delivered the healthy baby boy - John - safely.
"They always tell you in obstetrics that anything can happen," she said.
"But I don't think anything could've prepared me for this."
Four staff members lost their lives in the blast and a number of others were injured.
But the welfare of the patients still came first.
"Everyone was ignoring their injuries to make sure everyone else was okay," she said.
"The midwives and residents were all there and ready to do their jobs."
The final year resident has been living in Lebanon since she graduated from Kardinia International College in 2008.
"I've always wanted to be a doctor," she said.
"My paediatrician in Australia was so amazing. He would always read me stories before I got my vaccinations."
Now in the final year of her residency on the "happiest floor" of her hospital, Dr Yacoub is in the process of applying for a medical fellowship back in Australia.
"There's something very gratifying in the way you get to help these families," she said.
In the weeks after the explosion her story was heard around the world, an experience she still finds a little surreal.
An unintended positive has been reconnecting with old Geelong school friends and people from across the globe.
"A lot of old school friends reached out, and a lot of people I haven't spoken to in a long time were checking in on me," she said.
"It's been so nice to get in touch with people from Kardinia (International College). Even a long time after graduating, you still feel that family spirit."
While the transition back to everyday life hasn't been easy for anyone in Beirut, Dr Yacoub has found a sense of normalcy in returning to work.
"We have a very supportive team of residents and hospital staff, and the whole community has really held each other together," she said.
"Being able to get back to work and focus on the patients has been very helpful."
Despite members of the community taking steps to clean up Beirut streets, Dr Yacoub said the nation was still struggling in the aftermath of the blast.
"It's been very devastating," she said.
"We also have a very bad economic and political situation, and a country without all of those problems would be struggling in circumstances like these."
Widespread anti-government protests across the country triggered the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab and the Lebanese cabinet on August 10.
"They hate using the term 'resilient', because how many times do we have to be resilient?" she said. "People shouldn't be facing explosions."
Experts predicted the explosion could compound issues in a country already dealing with a financial crisis and high inflation.
Almost half its population lives below the poverty line, according to international reports.
"(The video) got a lot of international attention, which I hope was able to bring some awareness about what's been going on in Lebanon," she said.
Despite ongoing issues, Dr Yacoub said she was impressed and inspired by the way the community had united in the aftermath of the blast.
"Everyone banded together to clean up glass in the streets, some people were even recycling the glass," she said.
Amid the clean-up and ongoing protests, the two new mums and healthy bubs are still in regular touch with their "guardian angel" doctor.
"Both women and their babies are doing very well," she said.
"They've started a WhatsApp support group for the mothers on the ward that day."
While not a usual day's work, Dr Yacoub said their strength hearkened back on why she chose obstetrics and gynaecology as a speciality.
"Mothers sacrifice so much and I wanted to be able to help them," she said.
"It feels like you get to do something amazing on a daily basis."
Originally published as Brave Geelong doc delivers babies in Beirut explosion