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Surgeon who saved Sen. Duckworth says he couldn't save her with those wounds in Gaza

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

I'm Ari Shapiro in Washington, where a group of doctors went to Congress today. All of them have provided medical care in Gaza over the last nine months since Israel's war with Hamas began. At a briefing, the doctors described patients they've treated - civilians, including women and children, with injuries that might have been survivable in other places.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM HAMAWY: Many of these patients die when they arrive to the hospital. The mortality rate is 80%. In our most recent war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mortality rate was 10%.

SHAPIRO: That's Dr. Adam Hamawy speaking at today's briefing. He is a former U.S. Army combat surgeon, and last month, we spoke to him when he was in Gaza. He is now here in the studio with us. It is so good to see you face-to-face.

HAMAWY: Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: What did you want the staffers you met with today to understand about your experience in Gaza?

HAMAWY: I wanted them to see how severe it was. War is hell. This is what I've been hearing from everyone and on the news, and I understand that. I've seen it in the past. But this is beyond hell.

SHAPIRO: Beyond hell meaning what, exactly? You have enough experience in war to be able to draw a comparison.

HAMAWY: The level of civilian casualties is something that I've never seen before. The amount of resources we have to take care of them is something that I've never experienced before. And it's on purpose. Usually, civilians are what's called collateral damage, you know, a very bad term, but, you know, they're not the targets. Here we could see, you know, consistently that they are the targets. And consistently, resources like medical aid, food, supplies is being withheld on purpose, which also impacts their care and their survival.

SHAPIRO: Israel would push back against the claim that it's on purpose. They would say Hamas uses hospitals as staging grounds and uses civilians as human shields. How does your experience in Gaza reflect on those statements from Israel?

HAMAWY: So I was at the European Hospital for 21 days. There's been other doctors and nurses that have been to hospitals throughout Gaza since January on a consistent basis. And I did not see one weapon. I did not see a pistol, did not see a rifle, either by anyone carrying it in the hospital or any of the patients that come in. And again, I've been in war. Usually, like, combatants usually have a weapon on them. They have something. They look like a combatant. And my entire time there, even outside the hospital in the area immediately on the compound, there was no military presence at all. So when I hear that and I have no proof and I've seen it with my own eyes, I have to doubt it.

SHAPIRO: Can you expand on what we heard you say in the introduction that you said at the briefing, that people are coming in with injuries that in other wars would have been survivable? For you as a doctor, knowing that in other circumstances you would have the ability to treat somebody who in this case will not survive their injury, what does that do to you?

HAMAWY: Well, it's like having your hand tied behind - you know that you could help them. I mean, the skills are there, you know, to do what we need to do. What's missing is all the support around it. I mean, as a doctor, when I go into a hospital, it's just not me. It's a whole team. I have a whole system that works with me. I have nurses, I have staff, I have equipment. It's rare to be in a situation where you have none of these, nothing at all.

I mean, they already come at a disadvantage because of their state of malnutrition. You go in there, you don't have a clean environment. You don't have antibiotics, you don't have pain medicine. I mean, basically, after surgery, they're getting Tylenol. I mean, it barely helps our headaches here and yet, you know, you're fixing bones, you're taking care of burns, you're doing these massive operations, and they got Tylenol to take care of them.

SHAPIRO: You are known for having saved the life of Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, when she was injured in Iraq. And when you were trapped in Gaza after the Rafah border was closed, she made calls to try to get you out. You've now been back for just about a month. I'm curious, have you met with her? Have you reconnected?

HAMAWY: Yes, that's one of the first meetings that I came to Washington for is to thank her and also to ask her for help. And that was our first face-to-face meeting since 20 years ago.

SHAPIRO: Since Iraq?

HAMAWY: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

HAMAWY: We had spoken on the phone, and we had been in contact with each other, but our first face-to-face.

SHAPIRO: What was that like?

HAMAWY: It was good. I mean, I was very happy to see the result of, you know, my work. You know, when I was in Iraq, I took care of hundreds of service members and soldiers and civilians and enemy combatants, and we never know what happened. But she was one story that I knew that I made a difference. And I'm sure there's others.

And this is what, you know, when we look at Gaza and what's happening - is like, how many potential leaders, how many potential people that can make a difference that, you know, could really help the society in Gaza and help the situation - how many are we killing and turning away because we're not able to make a difference? And I know - I mean, it's great to see her. But if she was injured in Gaza today, I don't think she would have survived with her injuries. And that's where, again, I feel helpless because we know that we can make a difference.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Adam Hamawy, thank you for coming in. It's good to talk to you.

HAMAWY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Megan Lim
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.