'We want to do our part': Local health care workers prepare to deploy to Gaza

When humanitarian aid workers return to Gaza, suburban physician Dr. Thaer Ahmad will be with them, even though it means stepping into the middle of a war.

"If there's an opportunity to get in and do our part we want to do our part," said the emergency care specialist. "Sitting at home doesn't sit well with me or the other volunteers."

Ahmad volunteers with MedGlobal, a suburban organization that sends physicians, nurses and other health care professionals and supplies around the world to provide medical and humanitarian support in the wake of a war, natural disaster or other emergency.

Days before Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400, including 31 Americans, and taking about 200 people hostage, Ahmad was preparing to return to Gaza for the fifth time, his third as a MedGlobal volunteer.

The Bridgeview physician was among 20 specialists set to deploy to the Palestinian territory. But in the wake of the attacks and Israel's subsequent bombardment and blockade of Gaza, the Chicago Ridge-based MedGlobal canceled the trip.

Now, with Israel allowing aid into Gaza via Egypt, the humanitarian mission will likely begin. Ahmad expects to be on the first flight out.

"It's not about if but when, and as soon as possible. Whenever it seems feasible in terms of providing relief," said Ahmad, an emergency care physician at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

"I'm really anxious to get back there and do what I can."

MedGlobal has been in Gaza since 2018, said co-founder and president Dr. Zaher Sahloul, where its Palestinian health care professionals "have been working 24/7 since the beginning of the crisis." Another MedGlobal team is assisting with aid delivery across the Rafah border crossing from Egypt to Gaza.

"Right now the focus is on distribution of medical supplies, food and clean water from inside Gaza," he said.

In Gaza, MedGlobal operates a mobile clinic for elderly patients and trains their caregivers. It runs a wound-care clinic, supports a children's intensive care unit and more. The organization also provides medications and supplies for emergency rooms, critical care units, dialysis centers and patients with chronic disease. Its volunteers trained Palestinian colleagues on the use of portable ultrasound and advanced cardiac life support, established a breast cancer screening program and worked to address malnutrition.

"Our shared value is to improve access to health care and reduce health care deficiencies," said Sahloul, a critical care specialist at Advocate Christ Medical Center who says training local physicians and health care workers is a big part of their mission.

He says the war has strained an already fragile health care system. During the first week, doctors treated crush injuries and severe burns that resulted from bombs leveling buildings, said Sahloul. Some people remained in the rubble for two or three days because there was no way to transport them to the hospital, he said.

Interviewed before the deadly Oct. 17 blast which authorities say killed hundreds of Palestinians at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, many of whom were seeking shelter there, Sahloul said there were too few beds and insufficient pain medication. Those ongoing challenges will make it difficult to treat the injuries that he anticipates will result from an Israeli ground invasion. He also expects a lack of food and potable water will lead to malnutrition, infection and disease outbreaks.

"Because of the blockade, no supplies are coming in," said Sahloul. "It's beyond catastrophic."

As a result, Sahloul expects people will succumb not only from battle-related injuries but from an inability to access health care. Palestinians who have chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma won't get the medication they need, he said. People suffering heart attacks, strokes or pneumonia may not have access to treatment; neither will women in labor or people on dialysis.

"Other things people may be dealing with take a back seat during bombing and those things get worse," agreed Ahmad.

It is unknown when aid convoys and workers will be allowed into Gaza. But if Egyptian authorities approve, MedGlobal will send a medical team to establish a field hospital there, Sahloul said.

MedGlobal seeks to raise $1 million for its medical relief efforts. To make a donation, see

Ahmad, a Palestinian-American whose family lives in the West Bank, has colleagues serving in Gaza and surrounding areas. His sense of gloom deepens as the situation worsens.

"You reach out and you don't know what to say. It's hard to provide words of comfort from thousands of miles away," he said. "We feel incredibly helpless. I can't imagine how people on the other side feel, people who are there."

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a pulmonary and critical care specialist from Burr Ridge, is co-founder and president of MedGlobal, a humanitarian organization that sends volunteer health care workers to trouble spots around the world, including Gaza. Courtesy of MedGlobal
Dr. Thaer Ahmad, an emergency care specialist from Bridgeview, will be among the MedGlobal volunteers traveling to Gaza when humanitarian aid workers are allowed into the war zone. Courtesy of MedGlobal
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