Scottish nurse wins award for Libya work

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A SCOTTISH nurse who risked her life to treat patients from both sides of the Libyan conflict has won the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award 2012.

Karen Graham, from Clydebank, was presented with the award last night in recognition for putting the care of patients ahead of her personal safety.

She said: “I was completely overwhelmed just to be nominated for the award so to win it is beyond my wildest expectations, particularly when you consider the other nominees on the shortlist.

“I’m just a nurse doing a job that I love and that doesn’t change when you suddenly have to deal with civil war and heavy fighting in the vicinity of the hospital which resulted in us caring for the casualties of the conflict rather than the oil workers we were used to looking after.”

Graham, 41, now lives in Libya and is the nursing services manager at the Oil Clinic in Tripoli. She describes the local people “as some of the warmest” she has ever met.

She added: “I could never have upped and left them when they were most in need. It was one of the most challenging times of my life but was also one of the most rewarding. I’m really glad I stayed.”

The Burns Award was launched in 2002 and recognises a group or individual who has saved, improved or enriched the lives of others or society as a whole, through personal self-sacrifice, selfless service or charitable work.

The ceremony was held in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in his home town of Alloway, Ayrshire.

The winner receives the equivalent of 1,759 guineas, signifying the year of the Bard’s birth and the coinage in circulation at the time.

After studying at the Glasgow South College of Nursing, Graham spent four years as an army nurse, serving in both the Falklands and Germany.

She headed to Libya in November 2010 and immediately started at the Oil Clinic, a district hospital looking after the workers of oil companies in the area. In August 2011, the hospital became the centre for trauma medicine during the Libyan conflict.

While many people left the city, Karen and two other British nurses remained at the hospital, putting themselves in danger and gaining the respect of both colleagues and patients.

Graham said: “So many amazing things have come out of my going to Libya: I met my fiance, I’ve received this fantastic award and I can now also make bread – not bad going in just over a year!”