Dr. John Kahler Honored as 2019 American Red Cross Disaster Services Hero


Much of Dr. John Kahler’s life has been spent treating sick children. The first of his family to graduate from college, John was a pediatrician at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital for 31 years, providing care to many of the underserved. John could have chosen a relaxing retirement, but with so many children around the globe facing tragedy and hardship, he couldn’t bring himself to stop his work.

His medical travels have taken him to clinics across the globe, including Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, Haiti, Mexico, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Columbia, Tanzania, and Honduras. Dr. Kahler administers to places torn apart by fear and violence, despite the danger, because he knows that is where he is needed most.

In 2013, the world was shaken by the horrific deaths of thousands of kids as a result of chemical attack in Ghouta, Syria. Watching the pain of these families on the news, torn apart by war and violence, John felt called to expand his medical work abroad. He was heartbroken to see the Syrian people lose their hope. “It touched my heart and seared my soul. I was changed at that moment,” he said.

Soon after, John traveled to Greece at the height of the migration crisis to provide care to Syrian refugees. It was there he met Dr. Zaher Sahloul, another Chicago area physician, who at the time was the President of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). The two stayed in contact after the trip, and in 2016 after learning about the death of the last pediatrician in Aleppo, John called his friend and told him, “send me to Syria. I can help”.

While in Syria, John and the other medical professionals were forced to sleep in the basement of a secret hospital that they worked out of, as the threat of snipers and bombs made it too dangerous to leave. The two were among the last remaining western doctors in Aleppo.

It was after this mission in Syria that in 2017, that he co-founded the non-profit, MedGlobal. Based in the Chicago suburbs, MedGlobal is an international relief organization working to create a world without healthcare disparity. Their mission is to send culturally diverse, experienced medical teams to respond to humanitarian crises throughout the world and to partner with global communities to provide innovative, sustainable and dignified healthcare.

At 72 years old, John has dedicated his next chapter to helping heal those who are left vulnerable and defenseless and tell their stories. He’s committed to continuing to travel with his organization. A father of six and grandfather of twelve, he wants global service to be his final legacy.

He reflected, “I have health, strength and perseverance, and I’m on the last lap- there’s no question about that. I hope it’s a long, slow last lap.  My goal is to keep going.”

The Disaster Services Award is presented to an individual(s) who has exhibited heroic efforts in any or all of the areas of disaster services, including preparedness, response or recovery during a natural disaster or emergency situation, or has made an ongoing commitment to a community that experienced a disaster in response to an identified need.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2019 Heroes. For more information about the 2019 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

To hear more of Dr. John’s story, watch his video here.

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