The doctor chose to continue to work in war-torn Syria

Dr. Adnan Jasem had every reason to leave war-torn Syria after surviving a bomb explosion four years ago that broke his legs and received job offers from abroad.

Yet Jasem remained devoted to treating the people of his homeland. It was no surprise that he would be on the front line when the first coronavirus cases surfaced in northwestern Syria this summer.

On September 6, Jasem started to feel ill. Four days later, the 58-year-old was dead.

“It’s just so tragic,” said Jasem’s cousin, Dr. Ziad Alissa, who lives in Paris.

Alissa called doctors to put Jasem on a ventilator, but it was too late and he died the next day.

“He took care of so many people and saved so many lives, but we couldn’t save him,” said Alissa, director of the French division of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, or UOSSM., a group founded in 2012 by Syrian doctors to provide free medical care, equipment and other assistance to hospitals and clinics in Syria.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of stories in memory of people who have died from the coronavirus all over the world.


Jasem is the reason why Alissa, who is five years younger, became a doctor.

The two grew up in an agricultural area. Jasem’s father was the first to break with the family’s long history of wheat and cotton farming and went to college. He came back home to teach.

His father instilled in Jasem the sense of duty to serve your community. Jasem also returned after completing medical school in Damascus, specializing in anesthesia.

He and his wife, a gynecologist, had four children and worked as local doctors in the East Syrian region of Deir el-Zour, near the border with Iraq.

Syria’s civil war erupted after an Arab Spring-inspired uprising, which began with peaceful protests in 2011 and escalated into an armed insurrection following a crackdown by the government.

Their lives were under constant threat: as doctors, they were viewed with suspicion whenever a new group – from government troops to IS fighters – took control of an area.

According to UOSSM, 85 medical facilities in northern Syria have been attacked in the past year alone.

Medical equipment was regularly moved to hospital basements to protect them from bombing. With the sound of airplanes carrying out air strikes overhead, hiding in a safe place was a regular part of Jasem’s working day. Sometimes he treated fellow doctors who were injured in the blast.

The Nine Years War in Syria has killed about half a million people, injured more than a million and forced about 5.6 million people to flee as refugees, mostly to neighboring countries. Another 6 million of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million are internally displaced.

Jasem and his family have been uprooted several times because of the violence, including when a bomb explosion destroyed his home four years ago while huddling with his wife and children in the basement. Both his legs were broken and he had surgery to walk again.

Jasem received job offers from doctors who had left the country, inviting him to join them in Turkey and raise his family there.

His nephew said that Jasem’s answer was always the same: “If there are no doctors here, who would help the people?”

The Syrian healthcare system was already struggling when the first cases of coronavirus appeared. Jasem has been working in the hospital’s intensive care unit in al-Bab, a Turkey-controlled zone in northwestern Syria, since 2017. Turkey supports opposition fighters fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Jasem did his best to teach his colleagues and patients how to protect themselves from the virus, his cousin said, but masks, gloves, coats, disinfectant and even soap were short.

When Jasem came home sick, he told his family not to worry, that he would rest and recover during the quarantine. He thought he had survived so much already.

But within days, he was struggling to breathe and ended up in the same intensive care unit where he had treated countless patients. He spent only one night there before he died.

“During this war, thousands of doctors left because they couldn’t live there, couldn’t bear life there,” Alissa said. “He did it despite everything – despite the danger, the fear, the attacks, the bombings. He knew the people needed him. That made him an extraordinary person. There are very few doctors. “

Jasem dreamed of one day opening a hospital in Syria that would provide free medical services to everyone. His family hopes to make that dream come true in his honor.

Jasem’s wife, Dr. Ruba Alsayed plans to continue to work as a doctor in Syria and raise their 14-year-old son alone. Their 18-year-old son also wants to become a doctor. He is considering studying medicine in Europe, but plans to return to his home country to continue his father’s work.

Jasem has inspired so many, said Alissa, who regularly returns to Syria to register as a doctor.

“He loved his country, loved his home,” said Alissa. “Most of all, he loved helping his people.”


Watson reported from San Diego. Beirut Associated Press reporter Zeina Karam contributed to this report.