Attar, also an orthopaedic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, has traveled to provide aid four times with the Syrian American Medical Society, whose members have raised almost $100 million in aid and sent more than 100 physicians into war zones in Syria.
Attar described his experience working in hospitals that have been hit more than 450 times by airstrikes and other attacks, including one hospital in Aleppo that suffered 14 airstrikes in six months.
“You work with the understanding that you might find yourself dead or crippled or dismembered on the floor next to the people you’re trying to save,” Attar said in the interview.
Attar was previously honored as a Global Citizenship Hero by the American Red Cross of Chicago and Northern Illinois, and he was named one of three Chicagoans of the Year in 2016 for his volunteer work in Syria. He also described his work in Syria in a recent issue of Northwestern Magazine.
Though targeting hospitals is a war crime — the action spurred the original creation of the Red Cross — more than 800 medical personnel have been killed in attacks on hospitals in Syria, according to Basel Termanini, vice president of the Syrian American Medical Society and a gastroenterologist in Steubenville, Ohio.
“It’s the worst humanitarian crisis on our lifetimes,” Termanini said.
Over the course of the war, the Syrian American Medical Society has delivered 100,000 babies and supported almost 400,000 surgeries.
When asked why he risked his life to provide aid in Syria, Attar said, “Well, the Syrian nurses, and the doctors, the rescue workers that I met, told me that they would rather risk their lives dying in Syria trying to save lives than grow old comfortably from a distance watching the world fall apart. And I thought 20 years from now, I didn’t want to look back and say that I wasn’t a part of that.”