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American doctors stuck in Gaza call on the US government to help them return home

American doctors stuck in Gaza call on the US government to help them return home


Jerusalem CNN —

Dr. Ahlia Kattan should already be back home in California with her three young children.

Instead, she spends her days and nights at the European Hospital in Gaza, on the outskirts of Rafah.

Kattan, an anesthesiologist and critical care specialist, is one of at least 22 American doctors stuck in Gaza after an Israeli military offensive in Rafah last week closed the city's critical border crossing with Egypt. Rafah was until then the only entry and exit point for foreign aid workers entering and leaving Gaza.

My kids already texted me today saying you said Tuesday you were going to come home, Kattan told CNN. The WHO (World Health Organization) is trying to negotiate a safe exit for us. And that doesn't happen.

The crossing has been closed since the Israeli army seized it early last week. Israeli and Egyptian officials have so far failed to reach an agreement on its reopening, instead trading blame for its continued closure. Meanwhile, dozens of foreign doctors are stuck in Gaza, while others cannot enter as humanitarian conditions deteriorate in the besieged enclave.

FAJR Scientific, the U.S.-based nonprofit that brought Kattan and 16 other doctors to Gaza, is now calling on the U.S. government to help coordinate the safe exit of the teams from Gaza. They were supposed to leave on Monday.

“I call on the US government to intervene and coordinate with the WHO to protect US citizens trapped in a war zone and return them home as soon as possible,” said Mosab Nasser, the organization's director general, also in Gaza.

At least one member of the team must be evacuated for medical reasons, he added. The 17 doctors include 12 American citizens, three British citizens, one Omani and one Egyptian.

Kattan and her husband, who is also an anesthesiologist, arrived in Gaza more than two weeks ago, driven by the helplessness they felt watching the suffering in Gaza on television and knowing they could help.

We knew that here we needed anesthesiologists for civilians, women and children. And we knew we had something to offer, Kattan said.

The FAJR science team recorded video diaries of their experiences and the conditions they faced at the European hospital exclusively for CNN.

In a video, Laura Swoboda, a nurse practitioner and wound specialist from Wisconsin, describes the drone of drones overhead. Even in times when we feel safe, the war continues and there is a risk of renewed violence, she says.

Unsafe conditions aren't just found outside the hospital.

We didn't know how serious the situation was here. There was no soap to wash hands between maggot-infected wounds. There were no disinfectant wipes to wipe down the tables after each patient, Swoboda told CNN in a Zoom interview.

People were arriving, person by person. We no longer had gauze to clean the wounds. We were out of advanced dressings, we have gone through all of our cleansers and are using whatever we can find at this point.

This is what cleanliness looks like in Gaza, Kattan explains in a clip showing the state of an operating room, with plastic suits strewn across the operating table.

Before a quadruple amputee's revision amputation surgery, Kattan details the lack of anesthetics. Recovering a single vial of Propofol, she describes how doctors were able to bring it with them from the United States.

FAJRScientific operates under the auspices of the WHO, which, according to FAJRScientific, attempted to coordinate an evacuation.

At least one other international medical mission is currently at the European Hospital, organized by the Palestine American Medical Association. Of the 19 members of the PAMA medical team, 10 are American citizens.

The FAJRS science mission volunteers knew all the risks of traveling to a war zone, Kattan said, but getting stuck in Gaza was not a scenario they had considered.

Today, she is torn between the desire to return home to her children and the guilt she feels for trying to leave Gaza at a time when the Israeli army could expand its offensive and the need for personnel medical are expected to increase.

I miss my children, I wake up in the morning and realize that they are not next to me. But the hardest part is knowing that I will eventually leave. And I can go home and be safe. And I know my children are safe, she said.

And I've developed a lot of friends here who are the same age as me and who have children my age and who don't have those basic securities and necessities.

After more than two weeks of witnessing the enormous strain on one of the last remaining hospitals in southern Gaza, Kattan added that she and her colleagues only wanted to leave Gaza if they could be replaced by other doctors.

We are mothers and fathers who want to be at home with their families, their sons and their daughters, we are doctors here, we have colleagues and we cannot abandon them.




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