Samer Attar, MD, Receives 2019 Humanitarian Award

By: Maureen Leahy

Samer Attar, MD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, is the recipient of the 2019 Humanitarian Award. Dr. Attar was recognized during yesterday’s Your Academy 2019 event for his selfless musculoskeletal-related humanitarian efforts in the United States and abroad.

Terrance Peabody, MD, one of several orthopaedic surgeons who nominated Dr. Attar, said he exemplifies all of the qualities that define a humanitarian and what is best about the orthopaedic profession. “His dedication to patient well-being and the recognition of suffering—and his willingness to sacrifice time, treasure, and, on occasion, personal safety, in order to alleviate that suffering—meet our highest aspirations.”

Samer Attar, MD

Giving back—and so much more
Dr. Attar’s humanitarian work began in 2001, when, as a medical student, he provided frontline care at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 attacks. He also has volunteered his services in Jordan, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Liberia during the Ebola outbreak. In the United States, he treats patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

Since 2013, Dr. Attar has focused his humanitarian efforts in Syria, his parents’ homeland. Working with the Syrian American Medical Society, he has traveled to Syria multiple times to care for hundreds of sick and injured victims of the country’s civil war.

“I got lucky and was born and raised in the United States with freedoms, luxuries, and privileges. This is my way of giving back to a heritage and a culture that are in my blood,” said Dr. Attar. “I don’t have to carry a gun to do it, and I don’t have to drop any bombs. All I have to do is show up and represent my profession.”

In addition to helping save lives, Dr. Attar’s on-the-ground efforts have raised international awareness of the magnitude of Syria’s humanitarian and medical crisis. He has written multiple op-eds; testified at the United Nations; and met with ambassadors, U.S. State Department officials, and members of Congress about his experiences in Syria and the atrocities he has witnessed.

“Those of us who know [Dr. Attar] personally can attest to the purity of his cause. He seeks no fame, but only hopes that sharing his story can shed more light on the humanitarian crisis that has devastated the country,” said his friend Robert Bielski, MD.

In July 2016, Dr. Attar was the only orthopaedic surgeon treating patients at the overcrowded makeshift field hospital in Aleppo, Syria, and he was the last American doctor to leave the city when it was sieged. He called the experience the most meaningful time in his life as an orthopaedic surgeon.

“Dr. Attar risked his life to care for the Syrians, knowing he could easily be the next victim of a bombing or sniper attack,” wrote the late Michael F. Schafer, MD, who was a colleague of Dr. Attar’s at Northwestern. “He was constantly exposed to bombardment from bombs, mortar blasts, and gunfire.”

In addition to treating patients near the front lines in Aleppo, Dr. Attar also cared for wounded patients from all sides of the conflict at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières’ field hospital on the Syrian-Jordanian border.

“Dr. Attar has demonstrated exceptional commitment to the humanitarian values of neutrality, impartiality, and independence in the conduct of his medical duties both inside and outside the Syrian conflict and in some of the most extreme and dangerous conditions imaginable,” said Jason Cone, executive director of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières USA. “In my years of humanitarian work, I have never come across an individual with such humility and capacity for personal sacrifice.”

“Twenty years from now, I don’t want to look back and say that I didn’t show up to lend a helping hand,” said Dr. Attar. “I went to Syria not just to take care of patients, but also to stand in solidarity with Syria’s full-time medics and rescue workers. Receiving the Humanitarian Award helps me recognize and raise awareness for our colleagues in Syria who continue to risk their lives and brave bombardment in order to care for the sick and injured.”

Maureen Leahy is a freelance writer for AAOS Now.