For twenty-five years, Dr. Kaleem Malik has been a physician specializing in emergency medicine and trauma. In medical school, Kaleem decided to focus on emergency response to “do the most good and administer to the needs of many.” Trained early on as a Flight for Life physician, he witnessed the severity of emergency medicine and the sanctity of life each time he boarded a helicopter and administered to a critical needs patient. This vital work inspired Kaleem to dedicate his life to emergency medicine, and to focus on serving Chicago’s most vulnerable and providing critical and life sustaining care, where empathy is of the utmost importance.
As a volunteer for Humanity First USA, a nonprofit organization that provides disaster relief and development assistance in 52 countries across 6 continents, over the past 17 years, Kaleem has held leadership roles including Chief Medical Officer. He is currently the U.S. Course Director and Faculty lead for Medical and Global Disaster Relief Training. Kaleem is also a practicing emergency staff physician with the DuPage Medical Group and is the CEO of TriLab, an academic lab partnering with healthcare systems to combat the U.S. opioid epidemic, a crisis that Kaleem has witnessed firsthand impacting “a vulnerable population with a stigma that has dehumanized.”
Kaleem has volunteered for many global disaster emergencies with Humanity First USA, including the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 2010 Pakistan floods, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, hurricane Katrina and more. Despite the tough medical disaster situations he has encountered, his time as Medical Lead for Humanity First USA in Coopers Town [Abaco, Bahamas] challenged all his disaster relief skills.
Hurricane Dorian was one of the deadliest natural disasters to hit the Bahamas, causing at least 70 deaths and widespread destruction. Kaleem and Humanity First USA were part of the first medical relief team invited to the Coopers Town Clinic on Great Abaco Island, one of the islands hit hardest. They were summoned by the Bahamian Ministry of Health, the Pan-American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, based on their ability to nimbly and effectively assist in the devastating humanitarian health crisis. Within 48 hours of the hurricane making landfall, Kaleem and his team of 10, spent all night packing four tons of medical equipment and flew to the Bahamas where the death toll was increasing, and the health crisis was escalating. Hundreds of people were trapped on the Abaco islands including many undocumented Haitians who were afraid to heed the evacuation warnings.
“This particular disaster, in my experience, contained all of the elements that we train for,” he said. “There was a paucity of resources, primarily communications, so no way to get word out. No power, running water.”
After a 13-hour boat ride to Abaco, Kaleem and his team, along with their four tons of medical equipment, were tasked with restoring a badly damaged clinic on Abaco Island. The team brought medicine, tents, food, generators, pumps and a desalination unit to help provide drinking water. The devastation, destruction and debris on the island was unfathomable. “you would think a nuclear bomb had gone off,” said Kaleem. The clinic had major roof and water damage, no water, power or cell signal and the team began near-impossible tasks of cleaning and sanitizing the flood damaged clinic, while prepping sterile conditions to see patients. Sleeping on the clinic floor, cleaning again and again after rain continued to pour in and caring for the many patients, was difficult, but Kaleem and his team persevered.
The need was so great, that Kaleem extended his initial 5-day deployment to nearly 12 days and returned only because he had to leave for Guatemala on another relief trip, where he and Humanity First USA had opened a hospital. Kaleem serves as the chair of the emergency department and administers medicine in remote Guatemalan villages.
In between disasters, Kaleem and his wife are raising three teenage daughters who have accompanied their dad on some medical missions and training programs. Kaleem also serves as Humanity First USA’s Course Director for Disaster Response Training, where he prepares others to deploy on humanitarian relief missions. What Kaleem is most proud of is “training (others)… It is the key to disaster response, scalability is what I have focused on the last 10 years, working to mobilize others and get them excited to go, to be that spark that may inspire empathy.”
For the first time in 18 years, coronavirus caused the cancellation of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, but stories of resilience and determination prevail. These “Everyday Extraordinary Heroes” live among us. Watch their stories every Tuesday & Thursday starting April 14 at 10 a.m. in social media.
You can support the American Red Cross during this Coronavirus outbreak at Redcross.org/ChicagoHero.