Oak Lawn doctor treats Syrians wounded in civil war
BY MIKE NOLAN firstname.lastname@example.org March 17, 2013 5:00PM
Dr. Mohammad Al-Khudari Jr., an ophthalmologist in Oak Lawn, recently went to Syria with a group of doctors to treat people injured in that country's ongoing civil war. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 19, 2013 6:06AM
In Syria, the country of his parents’ birth that has been wracked by civil war, Oak Lawn ophthalmologist Mohammad Al-Khudari Jr. tried to make a difference.
In a makeshift “hospital” carved out of an apartment building, the father of four children ranging in age from 7 months to 9 years operated on similarly aged kids who’d suffered eye injuries caused by flying shrapnel.
“It’s very saddening,” Al-Khudari said. “It’s unbelievable.”
He was one of seven Chicago-area doctors who, along with medical professionals from other parts of the United States, spent time last month in Syria, not only treating the wounded but imparting to local doctors their own expertise.
Al-Khudari said that a friend of his who is a hand surgeon “told me there is a need” for doctors working in Syria, as well as a crucial need for medical supplies. The local doctors toted 14 suitcases filled with supplies such as bandages, sutures and needles, much of it donated by other doctors and hospitals, including Little Company of Mary. Al-Khudari said he was able to secure a donation of an ultrasound machine, worth $30,000, designed for analyzing eye injuries.
Working through an Ohio-based group, the Syrian American Medical Society, the doctors spent two days in Turkey talking with local physicians who’ve been treating the wounded about surgical procedures. SAMS last year began organizing regular training sessions for doctors working inside Syria and near the Syrian border.
Al-Khudari and the other doctors then traveled to Bab al-Hawa inside Syria, where they saw more than 150 patients over a four-day span. Some of the people they worked on traveled 12 hours to receive care, he said.
Al-Khudari, 40, whose specialty is pediatric ophthalmology, said he treated children who’d suffered eye lacerations from shrapnel.
“I saw all these kids” who had been wounded, he said. “It’s very sad.”
The “hospital” they worked out of had just three small operating rooms, and the doctors slept in other apartments in the building.
While they all might have a particular area of expertise, the doctors were pressed into service on a wide range of cases. Helping treat a man who had a bullet wound in the throat, Al-Khudari used his cellphone to get an assist from his brother, who’s an ear-nose-throat specialist in Ohio.
Their parents emigrated from Syria to the United States, and Al-Khudari’s father, Mohammad Sr., is an obstetrician/gynecologist in Joliet.
‘Morale is so high’
The uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began peacefully but erupted into a full-scale civil war that, according to United Nations estimates, has killed more than 70,000 and displaced about 4 million of Syria’s 22 million people.
“The government is shooting its own people, killing its own people,” Al-Khudari said.
Assad had been practicing ophthalmology in London when his older brother — and presumed successor to Syria’s presidency — died in a car crash, and Assad assumed the role of the nation’s leader following the death of his father, who had been president, in 2000.
“It’s the only country ruled by an ophthalmologist,” Al-Khudari pointed out.
In some, generally more sparsely populated, regions of the country, including where Al-Khudari treated patients, insurgents have been able to wrest control from government forces.
“Their morale is so high,” he said. “They want the government to fall.”
Al-Khudari said he hopes to return to Syria with the SAMS organization, perhaps in as soon as a month. He said that, after his recent trip, he initially felt as though his contributions didn’t amount to much.
“Once you go there you feel bad” that you can’t do more, he said. “But everybody who goes can make a difference. Every little bit helps.”