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World

Syrian Doctor's Patient Load Doubles In Aleppo During Bombings

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The United Nations is now accusing Syria's government of targeting hospitals and clinics in areas controlled by the opposition. A U.N. report released yesterday says the military is carrying out, quote, "the deliberate destruction of health care infrastructure." The targets included most of the 33 hospitals in the city of Aleppo. And one of the few doctors still working there is Rami Kalazi. He's a neurosurgeon. He says his hospital is one of the biggest left in Aleppo. It's in a heavily bombed-out neighborhood. And he says the physical trauma he treats is horrific. And just a warning, this conversation contains some graphic descriptions.

RAMI KALAZI: We see injuries we have never seen even in books because people are getting shrapnel everywhere in the body.

GREENE: Dr. Kalazi says his hospital sees 40 or 50 patients a day. But on a bad day, that can become 100.

KALAZI: The injuries are massive - like a massive injury in the chest or in the abdomen or in the brain or have lost one or two eyes. So we have every day about 25 to 30 persons - dead people or have massive injuries.

GREENE: And the people with massive injuries, I mean, do you have space for them in the hospital to continue their recovery?

KALAZI: Most of the time, unfortunately, no because we only have about 15 to 20 beds for patients. So if we see that a patient needs a long stay in the hospital, we may send him to another hospital near the borders or even to Turkey.

GREENE: Are you normally able to get people with these massive injuries safely to the border and in - across into Turkey?

KALAZI: (Laughter) Indeed, you couldn't talk about safety in Aleppo or in the whole of Syria at all because even the ambulances are attacked with Russian airplanes or with the Syrian regime forces with bullets.

GREENE: Dr. Kalazi, you're a trained neurosurgeon.

KALAZI: Yes.

GREENE: But it sounds like you are dealing with injuries that are not just to the brain. You're dealing with everything.

KALAZI: Yes, because my specialty is not much useful in wars. So I go into general operations in the abdomen or chest surgery - wherever I could help.

GREENE: So you are learning new skills as you're doing all of this, I take it.

KALAZI: Yes, but it's not a very good mood to learn because you are seeing people dying. And you are emotionally sad.

GREENE: Is there one patient who you can tell us about who maybe you think about a lot?

KALAZI: Indeed, two - children actually. The first child was about 10 years old and the other, from about a few weeks ago, he was 3 or 4 years old. They had almost similar injuries. It was extradural hemorrhage.

GREENE: What is that, for the non-doctor?

KALAZI: It's a bleeding between the skull and the brain. This kind of injury actually is emergency. So we don't have CT scan. But I have made the decision that I must make this surgery. And I saved the children.

GREENE: It sounds like patients like that who you're able to save must help you keep going in such a difficult environment.

KALAZI: Yes, of course. I am saving lives. I am helping in saving lives. So I feel that I must stay inside Aleppo, actually, even in these circumstances.

GREENE: I can't imagine what it's like to see the city where you're from so destroyed. Can you tell me about what Aleppo used to be like in your memory and what it looks like today?

KALAZI: Oh, it's a hard question actually. Aleppo means too much for me. We are working now our lovely city. And we can't go to our most lovely districts and streets where we have our beautiful memories, actually, because if we went there, we will be caught by the Syrian regime forces and detained or killed.

GREENE: That's Dr. Rami Kalazi, who works in the Syrian city of Aleppo. We reached him in Istanbul while he was doing some training. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.