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Wednesday
Sep182013

Doctors Volunteer to Help Save Syrian Refugees in Jordan Hospital

ABC News(AMMAN, Jordan) -- At a hospital in Amman, Jordan, 2-year-old Raged put on a brave face as doctors examined an oozing shrapnel wound on the left side of her stomach. Her wound was so infected it wouldn't heal. The toddler was in constant agony, unable to sit or stand.

Raged was one of the two million Syrian refugees that have flooded into Jordan to escape the war in their homeland. Many of the refugees and the wounded are children. Their families are left to nurse them without assistance through injuries unimaginable to most parents.

Raged was born into the war in a town called Daraa, Syria, about an hour drive away from Amman. But for her entire life, the town has been the scene of fierce warfare between the rebels and the Syrian government.

Her mother, pregnant, left her home, her husband and her entire extended family in a desperate search for help after Raged was hit. Hospitals in Syria, crowded with injuries even worse than Raged's, patched up her wound and asked her family to move on. So they kept moving, and made it to Jordan.

"She was playing on the veranda of their home and there was rocket fire," said Dr. Abier Abdelnaby, one of the doctors at the Amman hospital. "Shrapnel, rocket fire and so forth struck her in, basically, her left side and blew out all of her intestinal and abdominal contents."

As world leaders waver on whether or not to intervene in the civil war that shattered half of Raged's little body, Abdelnaby will try to give the toddler back the ability to walk, play and be a child.

"It's heartbreaking, it's absolutely heartbreaking," Abdelnaby said. "This is a little baby. She should be out playing and running. She should not have her sides blown out and her intestines hanging out of her."

Abdelnaby, an Arab-American, was part of a group of 30 other medical professionals from all over the world who traveled to Jordan in order to help treat Syrian refugees. The trip was run through the Salaam Cultural Museum, a non-profit organization that collects aid for Syrian refugees.

The group was led by Dr. Human Akbik, a Harvard-educated, triple-boarded surgeon who practices at Mercy Health in Cincinnati, and a Syrian-born American who has led six week-long trips to Jordan to help care for dislocated Syrians.

During their short time there, Akbik and his team traveled around the country in packed vans and cars. The cases they saw ranged from asthma to gunshot and shrapnel wounds. They established the group's first optometry clinic and even set up mobile pharmacies.

"We have 750 pounds' worth of medication right now," Akbik said as he landed in Amman with 10 pieces of luggage, each packed with medicine.

Nightline spent a week traveling with Dr. Akbik from the United States to the Amman hospital, and then followed the all-volunteer medical team as they worked tirelessly amid the youngest casualties of a brutal civil war in Syria. Eighty percent of their patients were women and children.

As the doctors treated patients, President Obama was locked in a room with his advisors working on making a case for targeted strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and a fierce debate took shape over whether the U.S. should intervene in the war.

"I do not really like to talk politics with my patients because I'm here just to help them," Akbik said. "But what you overhear [is] that everybody is in favor, everybody is sick of the war and everybody wants to go home. And everybody is now looking that the strike is their way home."

Early last week, when an American strike on Syria seemed all but imminent, Akbik, whose wealthy family still lives in the Syrian capital, said he understood why the refugees were counting on it.

"This is the line for their life," he said. "This is it. Everything for them [is] now, all hands on deck. This is it. This is it. This is their hope.

"I cannot imagine what their reaction is going to be if they heard that U.S. pulled out or that the strike is not going to happen," he said at the time.

While Raged waited for further treatment, her new roommate arrived -- another girl, 14-year-old Khetan, with a similar injury. Last month, Khetan was fleeing her home with her family when a sniper's bullet tore through the door of their moving car and passed straight through her body.

Two emergency surgeries kept her alive, but she lost 30 pounds. Her insides were shredded and she needed another surgery to have her intestines sewn back together -- a procedure she couldn't get in the refugee camp where she lives.

She and her family traveled to the Amman hospital -- a journey that left them almost penniless, their clothes carried to the hospital in two trash bags -- where she was examined by Dr. Abdelnaby. She was to spend the next two days trying to rebuild Khetan's decimated stomach and trying to relieve Raged's agony.

The two girls, lying side by side in the hospital, would not see or hear President Assad tell Charlie Rose on PBS that he was at war with Islamic militants.

"If the American administration wanted to support al Qaeda, go ahead. That what...we have to tell them," Assad said. "You are creating havoc in the region, and if this region is not stable, the whole world cannot be."

The parents of both girls waited anxiously to find out if their daughters would survive their next round of surgeries, as doctors rushed to treat Raged, Khetan and the dozens of other Syrian refugees who make the dangerous journey to the hospital.

 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio