By Josue Villalón
St. Louis Hospital, which is run by the religious order Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, is located in the city district of Ismailie in the western part of Aleppo. It is one of the few medical facilities that was left standing in the northern Syrian metropolis after the bomb attacks in December came to an end. “We are working day and night, in part for free, to treat those who were wounded during the war and the other sick people,” the medical director of the hospital, Dr George Theodory, says.
The work has steadily increased in the hospital. “We currently have 55 patients. We have a medical staff of about one hundred people. But there were times when we had more than twice the number of admissions, casualties from the bombings.” However, the surgeries were not accompanied by any budget increases, Dr Theodory explains. “Our income hardly covers the costs of wages and fuel for the generators. These are essential because there is not enough electricity throughout the city.”
This is why the hospital turned to the local church through the religious who run it. The hospital asked for help in maintaining the hospital and replacing medical equipment so that it can continue to treat the wounded who are in most dire need. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) responded by granting the hospital $370,000 in funding. This will be used to acquire new endoscopes, a lithotripter for the removal of kidney stones and several UPS (uninterruptible power supply) generators. The generators ensure that these apparatuses and other medical equipment will continue to function even if the power supply were suddenly to be interrupted in the middle of an operation.
Dr Theodory is assisted by Sister Anne Marie while making his rounds. The trained nurse comes from Canada, but has been living in Aleppo for 18 years. “There are six sisters in our community. We run the hospital. At the beginning of the war, our Reverend Mother gave us the choice of leaving the country. But all of us decided to stay here. Because it is our job to stand by the sick. And their need for us is greatest now.” She describes how she was deeply moved by the witness of 6-year-old Mahmud, who was born without arms. He was admitted to the hospital after his legs had been torn off by a bomb. “He survived. I took care of him. He was finally released from the hospital a few months ago. He left with a smile on his face.”
The history of the hospital goes back more than one hundred years. Relatives who have come to visit the sick linger in the hallways and stairwells. A picture on the wall depicts the word “peace” – pieced together using bullet casings a sister picked up off the streets. “We also treat the destitute. Even though we are a Catholic hospital, we do not make any distinctions based on religious affiliation. I would estimate that about 70% of our patients are Muslim,” Dr Theodory explains.
(A “peace” sign on the wall – pieced together using bullet casings a sister picked up off the streets © Aid to the Church in Need)
He is a Christian of Greek descent. When the war started, he and his family emigrated to the United States. Later, however, he returned to Syria because his medical training was not recognised in America. “Here in Aleppo, I was already a doctor. That is why I decided to return, to work together with my colleagues and help the people in this country who are in such desperate need.” He admits that he sometimes was afraid of the war, “but my faith helped me have hope. I am a Christian and feel obligated to help those who are in need of help. The circumstances are immaterial.”
The doctor enters a hospital room with four beds. In the first bed, he greets Said Deri, a 17-year-old Muslim suffering from testicular cancer. Sister Anne Marie speaks with him in Arabic. She says that he is a good patient. She has become friends with him. The 50-year-old man in the bed next to Said, Remond Tarrap, is suffering from a heart condition. His state of health is poor, “but we are not throwing in the towel yet. He seems to be doing somewhat better these last few days,” the doctor comments. The final patient they greet is Munir Ocsan, who is already on his way to recovery. His family has come to visit him. “He is recuperating here because his spine was severely damaged during one of the last bomb attacks.” Munir smiles when he hears Dr Theodory.
(Sr Annie and Dr Theodory visit Munir Ocsan © Aid to the Church in Need)
Both Sister Anne Marie and the medical director of Aleppo’s St. Louis Hospital are grateful for the support provided by Aid to the Church in Need. “We are very thankful for this generous gesture. If we did not have it, we would not be able to treat any more patients or at least not treat them adequately.” Of all the patients, the Muslims are the most grateful. “They are impressed that we Christians help them with so much kindness. They say that we have treated them better than any other hospital,” the sister adds. “The strength to continue working comes only from God. The faith upholds us. We ask all the benefactors to pray for us. Thank you!”
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information or to make a donation to help the work of Aid to the Church in Need, please contact the Australian office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153.
On Line donations can be made at www.aidtochurch.org