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Northwestern Medicine Physicians Carry Out Humanitarian Work

Northwestern Medicine physicians perform innovative, life-saving work every day. For many, their service extends beyond the exam or operating room, reaching people across Illinois and even around the world. Here are four physicians who exemplify Northwestern Medicine values through their humanitarian work.

Samer Attar, MD

Northwestern Medical Group Orthopaedic Oncologist and Surgeon Samer Attar, MD, was born in Chicago to Syrian parents. Dr. Attar grew up visiting family in Syria, so when war broke out in the country and the humanitarian crisis began to unfold, he felt compelled to use his medical skills to assist the people there.

“My blood is Syrian, and I’m a doctor,” Dr. Attar says. “I’m an American, but I have a foothold in both places. It felt like a responsibility.”

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Dr. Attar has worked in Syria or in field hospitals bordering Syria multiple times over the years. His work and that of others physicians in the area are especially dangerous because medical infrastructure is often heavily targeted by bombings. His mission work was highlighted in an episode of “60 Minutes” that aired on November 26, 2017.

While the war-wrought conditions can be grueling and exhausting, Dr. Attar says the people there motivate him to continue. One outstanding memory he has is saving a young boy after a bomb strike, and witnessing the boy’s reunion with his father in the hospital.

“There are moments like that – moments of hope,” Dr. Attar says. “One moment like that is enough to keep you going for the rest of the week, because that’s what it’s all about.”

Kevin Hunt, MD

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In 2007, Northwestern Medical Group Internal Medicine Physician Kevin Hunt, MD, took his first trip to Northern Uganda. Ten years and thousands of treated patients later, he continues to impact the region through Medical Aid to Northern Uganda (MANU), a group he helped found. Through MANU, Dr. Hunt and other organizers travel annually to Uganda for 10 to 14 days, setting up clinics and providing care for local residents. In a country with civil tensions, prevalent violence and poor access to health care, Dr. Hunt and his fellow providers offer respite and aid.

“Anybody that has a mind to do something can do something,” Dr. Hunt says, adding that “if you give people a goal or a need, people start helping.

In order to provide urgent care and help to facilitate triage, an emergency room—funded by MANU—has been built in the area where Dr. Hunt serves. He is hopeful that the next big upgrade to the emergency room will be a CT scanner. 

Habib Shaikh, DO

Medical oncologist at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital Habib Shaikh, DO, embarked on a medical mission to Bangladesh, where massive refugee populations from Myanmar have gathered to escape ethnic strife. Dr. Shaikh volunteered his time at an acute care clinic organized by the Deccan Alumni Association of North America, an association of graduates of the Deccan College of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, Telangana, India. Although Dr. Shaikh is not an alumnus himself, he learned about the mission from a friend and decided to give back to an area that truly needed it.

Dr. Shaikh says the conditions near the clinic were far from ideal.

nm-humanitarian-day_shaikh“Those who have escaped are in need of urgent help, and resources there are very limited,” he says. “The clinic is essentially just inflatable tents. There were no labs on site, no imaging, no decent lighting – just a couple of fans that did little to provide relief from the heat.”

At the clinic, patients were triaged and the more serious cases transferred to a hospital run by a non-governmental organization.

Dr. Shaikh says the eye-opening experience showed him the resilience of the human spirit, adding that he now plans to volunteer on a mission trip at least every other year.

“Giving your time to others helps you center yourself,” he says. “It has helped me become a better version of me.”

Sheri Dewan, MD

Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group Neurosurgeon Sheri Dewan, MD, witnessed a global health crisis firsthand. Dr. Dewan traveled to southern India on a humanitarian medical mission, volunteering at the Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences, based in Kochi, Kerala. According to the World Health Organization, there is less than one physician for every 1,000 citizens in India. The crisis is even more acute for neurosurgery; 3,500 neurosurgeons are responsible for a population of more than 1.2 billion people.

nm-humanitarian-day_dewan“It was an eye-opening experience to witness the access issue. There were 170 people in the waiting room. Some had traveled 8 to 10 hours simply to be seen by a neurosurgeon,” says Dr. Dewan. “The heat was stifling, yet there was no air conditioning. Despite the hardships, these dedicated medical professionals are finding ways to get things done.”

During her time there, Dr. Dewan assisted in several brain tumor surgeries, performed follow-up visits with patients in the hospital and examined patients in outpatient clinics. Dr. Dewan described the overall experience in India as transformative, enlightening and inspiring.

Dinee Simpson, MD

Dinee Simpson, MD, is the first African American woman to be a transplant surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Dr. Simpson has dedicated her life to addressing health disparities in black communities. Following college, she volunteered in a Brooklyn hospital, helping patients with nonclinical needs. There, she met a surgeon who took her under his wing, and Dr. Simpson realized two things: that mentorship can be immensely powerful, and that she wanted to be a surgeon.

During her fellowship, Dr. Simpson recognized how much kidney and liver failure occurred in black communities, and she noticed that her presence brought ease to African American patients with whom she interacted. Research has shown that black patients are less likely to be listed on transplant waiting lists, are more likely to spend more time on the list, and are more likely to have poor outcomes after transplant. To help combat those disparities, Dr. Simpson decided to practice in a medical setting in an urban environment where she feels can make the biggest difference for underserved patients.