In Remembrance of Dr. Salia

Marion Koso-Thomas, M.D., MPH remembers Martin Salia, the lauded Sierra Leonean doctor who split his time between his family home in New Carrollton, Maryland and treating patients in his native Sierra Leone. Salia died from the Ebola virus on Monday.

Marion and Salia graduated from the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences, University of Sierra Leone in 1994. Then their roads diverged until they met years later at a children's hospital.

Dr. Koso-Thomas's remembrance is below.

The anticipation in the critical unit ward at the Ola During Children’s Hospital was palpable. Somehow or other, I had gotten the famous Dr. Martin Salia to come to the hospital to evaluate one of our cases. His presence on the ward was a rare event. The only (thing I knew) about him was that he was a ‘really good surgeon who could fix anything.’

As I rounded with other medical officers and tried to make sense of the complex cases of malaria and pneumonia we were encountering, I was intrigued by the reverence with which his name was mentioned. Having worked on the unit for at least a month as part of my Fulbright U.S. assignment to assist in the development of the pediatric training program, I had come to appreciate the dedication and commitment from the doctors and nurses who took care of helpless, lifeless children around the clock. They held their composure in the face of one crisis after the other. However, their demeanor on this day was less guarded and somewhat ecstatic!

Too often, we lost more lives than we would prefer, but the ill-equipped facilities were the best we had. As we worked through developing protocols and guidelines with medical officers, Kap Anamur staff from Germany and the Welbody Partnership consultants, the lack of resources and general support of a strong health system seemed to constantly cripple our efforts.

Regardless, we pressed on.

That week in early 2013, we had a number of cases which needed some kind of surgical evaluation and assessment. One case in particular was a year-old infant with what seemed to be hydrocephalus that occurred after a severe episode of meningitis. I recalled there was only one doctor who I knew during my years as a medical student that would challenge such difficult cases. Dr. Cole had passed away.

But the enthusiastic response from the staff on the unit was that Dr. Salia would not only put a shunt in the brain of this  afflicted child , but that he also had a 50/50 success rate which was almost unheard of in the best of scenarios. And so we waited. And waited. And waited.  All of sudden there was a flurry of activity in the hallway.

Dr Salia don cam!!!”  Nurses yelled in Krio. Dr. Salia was here!

When he came through the doors, I was aghast. Not only did I know this demi-god, but we were at the College Of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (the only medical school in Sierra Leone) at the same time. I was impressed. We hugged.  It had been so many years. We were both happy to reunite.

As we shared stories about what had transpired since our days in medical school together, I couldn’t help but think how proud I felt to have met ‘home grown’ physicians in the country dedicating their time and talent to improve the health of our nation . So many of the alumni including myself had left the shores of Sierra Leone seeking better training and employment but almost none had returned to apply their skills to help their country men.

As I watched him bustle through the ward, I couldn’t help but smile at his unchanged personality. Full of life, asking questions, joking with the staff but most importantly completely confident in his skills. He called me Dr. Morgan on several occasions — my maiden name when I graduated from medical school which is what explained his lack of recognition of who it was that had been pestering him for a consultation all the way across town from where he worked.

Within minutes, he evaluated the child, reviewed the medical charts and drew samples of spinal fluid, which all of us were terrified to do since it had higher risk than normal in a patient such as this one. As he left, he promised the mother of the child as well as the entire staff that he would do the best he could to get this child on the road to recovery.

That was the last time I laid eyes on my colleague and friend.

He has been called a hero. That designation befits him


Dr. Marion Koso-Thomas can be reached at


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