A Tribute to a Hero

A few weeks ago, I received news that my uncle in the middle east had passed. I never had the privilege of meeting him, having left a war-torn country as a baby. However, I grew up hearing countless stories of his selflessness, intelligence, and commitment to improving the health of residents in our hometown. His passing is a shock and a painful reminder of the fragility of life.

Expert cardiac surgeon

Dr. Atheer Baqir Al-Ansari was one of the most respected cardiac surgeons in the middle east. He devoted his life to his practice, working long hours to serve a country devastated and torn apart by wars. My uncle performed heart surgeries at no-cost for the poor. People depended on him; his waitlists for these operations were extensive. Having performed the first open-heart surgery in Baghdad, he was immensely respected in the scientific and medical community for his contributions to the cardiology field.

Practicing medicine amidst adversity

My uncle's sharpness and humbleness became prominent at a young age. When he graduated from medical school, he chose to stay in Baghdad despite the ongoing war. He had every opportunity to immigrate to another country to start a new practice and enjoy the luxuries of the first world; however, he was stubbornly devoted to his home country.

Despite the lack of medical resources and threats to his personal security, my uncle was never deterred from attempting to practice to his full potential. He chose a life of simplicity and philanthropy over luxury. He had his own health issues: diabetes and high blood pressure. Unfortunately, he valued the health of others before his own.

Working throughout a pandemic

At a time when many clinicians decided to defer cardiac surgeries, Dr. Al-Ansari continued to perform them, risking his life daily. He was often operating on two people in the same room to meet the increased demand. With limited protection and a weakened immune system, he contracted COVID-19. Sadly, after a week of battling the virus, his heart, kidneys, and other organs failed. He was only 57 years old when he passed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, with those on the frontline hit the hardest. Furthermore, less industrialized countries with limited support for the psychosocial well-being of their healthcare providers are at further risk of a diminishing health workforce. It is important that we remind ourselves to be patient and kind to healthcare professionals. Many are working in stressful conditions with limited staffing, and are doing their best to continue to offer quality care amidst limited resources.

I don’t use the term hero often. Yet the term is the most fitting to describe my uncle: a man who sacrificed his well-being to serve people when they needed it most.

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