Doctors, nurses from Elmhurst Hospital heading abroad to help treat refugees

Team will help care for people who've fled Syrian Civil War to camps in Lebanon

medical mission
Among the Elmhurst Hospital physicians and nurses taking part in a medical mission to Lebanon to treat Syrian refugees, (seated) Dr. Moeen Saleem, cardiac electrophysiologist, Advocate Medical Group; (back row, from left) Dr. Rameez Alasadi, gastroenterologist, DuPage Medical Group; Dr. Madhavi Ryali, nephrologist, Nephrology Associates of Northern Illinois; Dr. Elaine Spirakes, internal medicine, Elmhurst Medical Associates and Dr. Michael Martirano, general surgeon, DuPage Medical Group. (Photo provided by Elmhurst Hospital)

ELMHURST – When we see images of children injured in the war in Syria or displaced with their families to refugee camps in neighboring countries, it’s easy to feel a moment of sympathy and go on to the next news story.

It’s quite a different matter when you’ve met these families, said Dr. Khalid Badwan, a urologist with Elmhurst Clinic, who will go on his second medical mission to Lebanon in April.

“This [dislocation of millions] is the largest humanitarian disaster since World War II,” Dr. Badwan said. “Going there helps you put a face on the problem. [These refugees] affect you because they remind you of yourself. They had normal lives. Many were even well-to-do. Now they have nothing.”

“[These refugees] affect you because they remind you of yourself. They had normal lives. Many were even well-to-do. Now they have nothing.”

The April medical mission is sponsored by the Syrian American Medical Society, which pays for rental use of special medical equipment, such as a laser machine, and space for treating patients. The mission’s volunteer doctors and nurses cover their own transportation and lodging.

The Elmhurst connection

Most of the 18 participants in the April medical mission are healthcare professionals affiliated with Elmhurst Hospital. Specialties represented include cardiology, nephrology, vascular and urological surgery, hematology, emergency medicine, general practice, critical care and anesthesiology.

Elmhurst Hospital has contributed $5,000 toward medication, surgery and catheterization lab expenses, a sum that’s being matched by its medical staff.

“We’re glad to help defray the mission’s medical care expenses,” said Pamela Dunley, President & CEO of Elmhurst Hospital. “And we’re offering paid time off for the Elmhurst nurses who are part of the group. We want to support the volunteer causes of our physicians and other staff. The [mission participants] are excited about doing this. They even started a crowdfunding website to raise more money for medical supplies.”

“SAMS mission teams used to travel to Syria to treat war injuries,” said Dr. Badwan. “That’s become too dangerous. Now, they typically travel to Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon to treat refugees with more routine problems such as diabetes or hypertension. Lebanon has the greatest need. It’s a very small country that’s been flooded with about 1.5 million refugees.”

Dr. Badwan expects to treat people with common urological problems such as kidney stones and enlarged prostates, but on his previous medical mission he also removed shrapnel from a Syrian man’s bladder.

General medical services

Another member of the April mission team is kidney specialist Dr. Madhavi Ryali of Nephrology Associates of Northern Illinois.

“I’ll be providing general medical services, and because I’m a woman I may be asked to provide care specific to women’s health,” said Dr. Ryali, who is coordinating the April visit.

As a mother of two children under 5, Dr. Ryali said she was especially drawn to this mission because of the number of children affected.

“It is such a desperate situation internationally. The mission can only scratch the surface, but we also can try to raise awareness of the refugees’ plight.”

“This mission is special to me because it will display a solidarity of sorts with my medical colleagues who have bravely been caring for patients in besieged areas,” she said. “Usually medical teams are exempt from attack, but in these situations, they’ve been targeted.

“It is such a desperate situation internationally. The mission can only scratch the surface, but we also can try to raise awareness of the refugees’ plight.”

The 18-year-old Syrian American Medical Society offers its members educational and professional networking services. The SAMS Foundation is a nonprofit humanitarian relief organization that organizes missions, trains Syrian physicians and delivers medicines and supplies to hospitals and Syrian families affected by war and displacement.

Members of the medical mission:

Dr. Rameez Alasadi, gastroenterology, DuPage Medical Group, Edward Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital

Dr. Nejd Alsikafi, urology, Advocate Condell Medical Center

Dr. Lana Ankin, anesthesia, Hahnemann University Hospital (Philadelphia) 

Dr. Khalid Badwan, urology, Elmhurst Clinic, Elmhurst Hospital

Mohammed Darwish, RN, Fresenius Medical Care, Elmhurst Hospital 

Dr. Neha Dave, emergency medicine, Swedish Covenant Hospital

Dr. Mufaddal Hamadeh, hematology/oncology, Advocate Christ, Advocate South Suburban, Ingalls, MetroSouth, President, SAMS Midwest Chapter

Dr. Zeest Khan, anesthesia, Adventist Health Lodi Memorial Hospital (Lodi, CA)

Jennifer Lukas, RN, Elmhurst Hospital

Beth Martirano, RN, Elmhurst Hospital

Dr. Michael Martirano, general surgery, DuPage Medical Group, Elmhurst Hospital 

Dr. Tad Nair, internal medicine/hospitalist, DuPage Medical Group, Edward Hospital

Dr. Samer Najjar, vascular surgery, Edward Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital 

Dr. Madhavi Ryali, nephrology, Nephrology Associates of Northern Illinois, Elmhurst Hospital

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

Dr. Elaine Spirakes, internal medicine, Elmhurst Medical Associates, Elmhurst Hospital

Dr. Yaser Wafai, anesthesia, Advocate Condell Medical Center, Chair, SAMS Lebanon Medical Missions