Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Libyan Loses His Arm in the Uprising, but with Surgery at Upmc, He Finds Himself . . . Ready to Row

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Libyan Loses His Arm in the Uprising, but with Surgery at Upmc, He Finds Himself . . . Ready to Row

Article excerpt

Mohamed al Rabte, then 23, was an engineering student in his hometown of Zuwarah in far western Libya, and a rower on the Libyan national team when the revolution broke out early last year. He joined the rebels fighting to oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

On Aug. 28, 2011, Mr. Rabte's guerrilla band was fighting to liberate the town just west of Zuwarah. The freedom fighters were going house to house to clear the last of the mercenaries from the town. As the young man crossed the street, he was shot by a sniper on a rooftop behind him.

The sniper was armed with a Vladimirov KPV-14.5mm heavy machine gun. Designed during World War II to destroy light armored vehicles, the KPV is more like a cannon than a rifle. Mr. Rabte's left arm was nearly torn off. Shell fragments lodged in his stomach and both arms.

After a battlefield amputation at a field hospital, he returned to the fight. He'd been the gunner of a rebel KPV before he was wounded. With the help of someone to load for him, he could still fire his weapon with his one good arm.

"All I had to do was pull the trigger," he said.

After the revolution was won last October, Mr. Rabte went first to Tunisia, then to Germany, for treatment. The battlefield amputation had saved him from bleeding to death, but it appeared to have doomed him to a life of pain because the nerves near the amputation site were scarred and very close to the surface of the skin.

"He had scars on all of his nerves," said Ivan Tarkin, an orthopedic surgeon and trauma expert at UPMC. "Every time you have a big thick scar, you live with chronic pain. If you put on a prosthesis, the pain is unbearable."

He'd just have to live with the pain, Mr. Rabte was told by his doctors in Germany.

A hero to his fellow rowers for his heroics during the revolution, he led the Libyan delegation during the opening ceremonies for the Arab Games in Doha, Qatar, last December. …

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