Doctors, nurses help 1,500 Syrian refugees on medical mission

June 01, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Heroes

On April 21, 2017, kidney specialist Madhavi Ryali, M.D., left Chicago for a medical mission that would provide care to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

As a mother of two she expected to be particularly moved by the children in the refugee camps who have been affected by war and displacement. Now she’s back home and says what surprised her was how much these children lifted the spirits of her team members who were working hard to care for as many patients as possible in a little over a week.

“The kids’ situation was heartbreaking but they were always jovial and happy to see us,” says Dr. Ryali, a kidney specialist with Nephrology Associates of Northern Illinois and Elmhurst Hospital.

Dr. Ryali recruited about a dozen doctors, nurses and others affiliated with Elmhurst Hospital to volunteer for the mission, one of several medical missions to be sponsored this year by the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS). SAMS handles much of the on-site logistics for these missions, such as negotiating use of local hospital space. Team members pay their own travel expenses and donate their services.

Eventually the team grew to 25, including medical professionals affiliated with Edward and other hospitals in the Chicago area, as well as Philadelphia and the United Kingdom. Specialties represented included internal medicine, general surgery, urology, oncology, cardiology, gastroenterology, vascular surgery and nephrology.

The team treated patients in Beirut, Tripoli and Bekaa Valley. Settings ranged from hospitals and clinics to both small and large camps for refugees. By the end of the week, the group had seen about 1,560 patients, provided more than 1,300 consultations, and performed about 200 surgeries and dozens of diagnostic procedures.

To treat those patients the team had to adapt to a very different healthcare system and sometimes, says Dr. Ryali, the limited availability of translators.

Also on the mission was Khalid Badwan, M.D., a urologist with Elmhurst Clinic and Elmhurst Hospital. Fluent in Arabic, he had no translation problems, but encountered a labor strike in the hospital where he was performing surgeries. This cut out two of the days he and the other urological surgeon on the team had scheduled for operations.

Fortunately, they were still able to accommodate most of the patients they had scheduled, thanks to a government requirement that foreign physicians caring for patients in a Lebanese hospital have oversight by a local doctor. The Lebanese physician who worked beside them was able to streamline processes, such as ordering X-rays, because he knew the system. “He even scrubbed in with us,” says Dr. Badwan.

Another team member, general surgeon Michael Martirano, M.D., of DuPage Medical Group and Elmhurst Hospital, spent four days doing surgery in the hospital and one day at a refugee camp. Despite a shortage of translators, Dr. Martirano says he was able to bridge the language gap thanks to fellow team member, Dr. Omar Mctabi, whose family is from Syria. Dr. Mctabi, who is a second year medical resident at Franciscan Health in Olympia Fields, was often with Dr. Martirano in consultations with patients and their families.

“The hospital had a limited supply of items we routinely use in surgery, such as suture materials, sterile drapes and mesh,” says Dr. Martirano. “Much of what we use in the U.S. is disposable, but (in Lebanon) they need to reprocess and re-sterilize everything. These are valuable resources. And the technology isn’t what we’re used to in the U.S. The anesthesia machines are outdated, for example, and they don’t perform laparoscopic surgery.”

Despite the challenges, Dr. Martirano says, “We were able to do everything we set out to accomplish. These people can’t afford to just go to have surgery on their own. They have lost everything – their houses, their money. Thanks to SAMS, donations, and the generosity of volunteers, these operations (and other medical services) are free to the refugees. The people were very appreciative.

“We saw some of the children running around who are 7 or 8. All they have known is war, death and destruction. They’ve been deeply affected psychologically. We don’t fully know what the impact of living in this time will be on them. But they were happy to interact with the doctors and nurses. We brought coloring books, crayons and stickers. And two of the doctors brought their high school sons who played soccer with the kids.

“We’re fortunate that we could help even a small percentage of these people. It’s not about religion, race or civil unrest. The most important thing is helping people in need.”

Learn more about donating to missions like this.

These are the doctors, nurses and others who took part in the April medical mission to Lebanon:

Edward-Elmhurst Health
Khalid Badwan, MD (urology)
Elmhurst Clinic, Elmhurst Hospital

Dania Badwan (translator)

Elaine Spirakes, MD (internal medicine)
Elmhurst Medical Associates, Elmhurst Hospital

Michael Martirano, MD (general surgery)
DuPage Medical Group, Elmhurst Hospital

Elizabeth Martirano, RN
Elmhurst Hospital

Jennifer Lukas, RN
Elmhurst Hospital

Madhavi Ryali, MD (internal medicine/nephrology)
Nephrology Associates of Northern Illinois, Elmhurst Hospital

Moeen Saleem, MD (cardiology, electrophysiology)
Advocate Medical Group, Edward Hospital

Safwan Saleem (son of Dr. Saleem)

Tad Nair, MD (internal medicine/hospitalist)
DuPage Medical Group, Elmhurst Hospital

Rameez Alasadi, MD (gastroenterology)
DuPage Medical Group, Edward Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital

Samer Najjar, MD (vascular surgery)
DuPage Medical Group, Edward Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital

Other Chicago area participants
Yaser Wafai, MD (anesthesiology)
Chair, SAMS Lebanon Medical Missions
Advocate Condell Medical Center

Mufaddal Hamadeh, MD (hematology/oncology)
President, SAMS Midwest Chapter
Advocate Christ Medical Center, Advocate South Suburban Hospital, Ingalls Memorial Hospital, MetroSouth Medical Center

Neha Dave, MD (emergency medicine)
Swedish Covenant Hospital

Nejd Alsikafi, MD (urology) 
Advocate Condell Medical Center

Yusef Alsikafi (son of Dr. Alsikafi)

Ismail Alani, MD (pulmonary/critical care)
Memorial Hospital, South Bend, IN

Massa Alani (translator and daughter of Dr. Alani)

Nabeel Jabri, MD (internal medicine/endocrinology)
Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center, Joliet

Wadah Attasi, MD (internal medicine/nephrology)
Nephrology Associates of Northern Illinois, Advocate Christ Medical Center, Holy Cross Hospital (Chicago), Little Company of Mary Hospital

Kenan Alhayek (translator)

Omar Mctabi, DO (internal medicine)
Franciscan Health, Olympia Fields

Rima Abdulmajid (translator)

Outside the U.S.
Lana Ankin, MD (anesthesiology)
Hahnemann University Hospital, Philadelphia

Naveed Iqbal, MD (pediatrics/internal medicine)
National Health Service, Manchester, UK

Baraa Mansour (translator)

Dana Alkhaled, MD, (medical student)
American University of Beirut, Lebanon


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