A first-of-its-kind mission for the Canadian Armed Forces is playing out in the war-torn country of Mali — and a Nanaimo doctor played a major role.

Dr. Andrew McLaren, a critical care doctor at the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, finished his seven-month tour of duty in Mali.

Whlie he was there, McLaren led a team of four highly trained medical staff on an unique mission with the Canadian Medical Emergency Response Team (CMERT).

“It's led by a critical care physician, an ICU nurse and two medics,” said McLaren. “It brings the rescucitation room to the patient and we are providing early advanced decision making.”

As part of the operation, McLaren had to make life-saving decisions while tethered inside a moving helicopter traveling 300 kilometres an hour with 50 pounds of gear on his back amid deafening noise and over 40-degree weather.

All the while, there was the potential of extremist forces on the ground looking to target him and his team.

Patients were transported to a trauma facility at a Canadian camp, and McLaren said the majority of the injuries he saw were trauma-related.

“Medical evacuation in a non-permissive environment like that, that’s dangerous, you think of trauma,” said McLaren. “It was penetrating injuries like gunshot wounds, blast injuries like an IED blast or blunt trauma like being in a road traffic collision.”

McLaren said he plans on using the skills he learned for teaching as well as his everyday work environment.

CMERT is part of Operation Presence, which is Canada’s peacekeeping role for the United Nations in Mali. Its contribution to the cause is expected to be complete at the end of July.