U.S. doctors describe dangerous trip to help patients in Syria

Smoke billows from the rebel-held Salihin neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria.
(Image credit: Fadi Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)

After a harrowing journey along a two-lane highway flanked by snipers, three doctors from Chicago made it to Aleppo, where they worked alongside Syrian counterparts and tried to help as many patients as possible.

Dr. Samer Attar, an orthopedic surgeon, was joined by Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a critical care specialist, and Dr. John Kahler, a pediatrician, for the mission. They arrived via Turkey, entering Syria on June 29, and were greeted on Castello Road, the supply road to Aleppo, by the stench of death; countless cars, buses, and trucks had been destroyed by snipers and airstrikes, and it was too dangerous to remove the bodies inside. "I have no words to describe the fear and horror there," Attar told the Los Angeles Times. "It was hell."

The volunteers brought medical supplies to seven different hospitals, where patients streamed in throughout the day. While at a trauma hospital, Attar saw "mutilated limbs, dismembered bodies, dead children, screaming patients. People literally bleed to death in front of you, and there is nothing you can do about it." In addition to the horrors, the volunteers were surprised to see what appeared to be signs of a normal life: Children walking to school, vendors selling fresh fruit, and electricity, but just for two hours a day.

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All three men left Syria safely, but Sahloul and Kahler were extremely nervous during their trek out. The pair left before dawn, driving without their headlights on. They were soon warned by oncoming drivers about warplanes, and Kahler said they heard bombs going off around them. A truck in front of them stalled, he said, and they felt like sitting ducks. "Those were the scariest 45 minutes of my life," Kahler told the Times. Read more about what the doctors saw inside Aleppo, and the battle between rebels and the Syrian government over Castello Road, at the Los Angeles Times.

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for TheWeek.com. Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and EW.com, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.