(CHICAGO, IL) – In the basement of a nondescript building halfway around the world, Dr. Samer Attar risks his life to save others. Even as bombs go off a few feet outside the secret makeshift hospital in Syria, he keeps a steady hand in the operating room. For many innocent civilians who are causalities of their nation’s civil war, Dr. Attar and his medical team are their only hope for survival.
“There were some nights it felt like the screaming never stopped, and there were some days we never left the operating room,” Dr. Attar said. “I operated on children shot by snipers in front of their parents, civilians who had bone fragments of obliterated bystanders embedded in their skin. The day before I left, a little boy whose crushed legs had been amputated asked me to bring him prosthetic limbs if I ever returned.”
With just a backpack of scrubs and his toothbrush, Dr. Attar, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Northwestern Medicine, takes a plane to Turkey and walks across the Syrian border into a war zone. From there, a driver navigates him past checkpoints and sniper alleys to the underground hospitals.
Through the Syrian American Medical Society and Doctors Without Borders, Dr. Attar, who’s been practicing medicine for nearly a decade, has made several medical mission trips to help in field centers in Jordan and underground hospitals in Syria. These facilities are kept secret because hospitals and medical workers are intentionally targeted during air strikes.
Many Syrian medics and aid workers have been kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured and killed, but Dr. Attar is willing to take substantial risk to help the sick and injured. The real danger, he says, is the one against humanity.
“Humanitarian efforts are failing in Syria because access to those who need help is threatened, restricted or denied,” he said. “The world outside is falling apart and we’re in the operating room piecing people back together.”
Dr. Attar said that the Syrian doctors who refuse to abandon their posts are challenged by limited resources of basic supplies like medicine and gauze. They are also faced with shortages of blood, needed to replenish the survivors whose blood is spilled in the streets.
“There are millions of innocent Syrian men, women and children who are sick, starving, displaced or injured, either from deliberate humanitarian blockades or aerial bombardment,” he said. “But I met a lot of good people inside Syria risking their lives to help them. You can’t save everyone, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying.”
The Global Citizenship Award is presented by NES Rentals to an individual(s) who volunteered or worked to meet the needs of the world’s potentially vulnerable populations by building safer, more resilient communities and providing needed relief.
The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is honoring local people who demonstrated acts of heroism in the community at the organization’s 14th annual Heroes Breakfast, Thursday, April 28 at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave. For more information: http://www.redcross.org/news/article/local/il/chicago/American-Red-Cross-Honors-Local-Heroes.
Written by: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois