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American Doctor On Conditions In Besieged Syrian City Of Aleppo


More than a quarter of a million Syrians are trapped in the city of Aleppo. That's because the last remaining road in and out of the city, the road that brought food and supplies and aid has now been cut off. It's called Castello Road and Chicago surgeon Samer Attar traveled that road earlier this month.

SAMER ATTAR: They were bombed on buildings on either side. You'd see smoke rising from ordinance that had dropped previously. We passed burnt vehicles, which literally littered the road. Whether or not you made it through, depended on whether or not it was being bombarded by helicopters or jets.

MCEVERS: Attar did get through, and then he spent two weeks volunteering at a hospital in Aleppo that is now underground. Hospitals have been repeatedly targeted by Syrian government airstrikes. Attar has been to Aleppo many times, but he says this was the worst he's ever seen it.

ATTAR: The first patient I saw was a 5 year old in the intensive care unit that was paralyzed from the chest down when shrapnel embedded in his spinal cord. And as we walked in, they were putting a breathing tube down to help him breathe, and he passed away a few days later. And next to him was a mother in her 30s who - she was at home when a barrel bomb landed, and she lost her 3-month-old, her unborn child, her fetus. She lost two of her children, and that was my first day there. And then after that, the bombings never stopped.

MCEVERS: Are there any other memories that still stay with you, you know - things that you still think about from your time there?

ATTAR: I still keep thinking about this little girl I took care of. She was one of the last people I operated on. She was around 8. She had her hand blown up from a bomb, and it was right after a big massacre where the emergency room was flooded with people. And all the operating rooms were full, and some people were having operations done in the hallway. Everyone knew that Castello Road might get cut at some point, but I didn't know it was going to be happening right around the time I was there.

So that night, when I finished operating, I was told that the road was closed. And that we were permanently sieged with no way in or no way out. That's not a pleasant sensation, and it was my - the closest I felt to tasting the fear and the horror and the despair, which the people of Aleppo are experiencing right now because the road is cut. But a few days thereafter, the road was permanently sealed off. It's - now it's just a catastrophe.

MCEVERS: What are people who are still in Aleppo telling you about what it's like now that this road has been cut?

ATTAR: Well, before there were some pockets of life. There were kids going to underground schools. There were fruit markets. But now I got a text two days ago from one of the last remaining neurosurgeons in Aleppo. He told me that he's exhausted. He's working around the clock. There's been no fresh fruit, no fresh meat, no fresh cooking oil. And he's eating dry dates to keep him going to give him energy. So on top of that, they're being bombarded, and he's working around the clock. And I don't know how long they can last like this.

MCEVERS: You wrote in your op-ed in The Washington Post that you were pleading with American officials to do something. What do you want them to do?

ATTAR: Anyone in Aleppo, any doctor, any rescue worker - the one thing they'll ask for is protection - protection from the skies - and I think a stern, firm warning to the Syrian government and the Russian government to keep the Castello Road open, to stop bombing civilians, schools and hospitals and residential areas.

MCEVERS: Will you go back?

ATTAR: I would go back.

MCEVERS: What does your family think about that?

ATTAR: That's - those are always tough discussions. But this is just what makes me tick, so I think they understand that.

MCEVERS: That's Chicago surgeon Samer Attar. He recently spent a couple weeks volunteering at a hospital in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Doctor Attar, thank you very much for your time today.

ATTAR: Thank you very much.

MCEVERS: With Castello Road now closed, the U.N. says people in this part of Aleppo will run out of food by next month. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.