Doctor from Hornell returns from Gaza with video, images he’s never seen before

Doctor from Hornell returns from Gaza with video, images he’s never seen before

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STEUBEN COUNTY, N.Y. – Dr. Ismail Mehr says it’s hard to describe how bad the conditions are in Gaza.

He can’t stop thinking about the children and how many of them have lost arms and legs – or been killed.

Dr. Mehr is an anesthesiologist at UR Medicine’s St. James Hospital in Hornell. For the 36th time in his career, we went to help in a war zone. He says he’s never seen despair and destruction like he saw in Gaza. He shared his experience with News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean.

“I’ve been to Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria. I’ve been to Gaza before, but I’ve never seen something like this,” Dr. Mehr said. “The physical toll of the war in terms of destruction, I had a day where I went through Kahn Yunis. I went to deliver medical supplies to a hospital north of Kahn Yunis and it was completely decimated. There was not a single building standing.”

Dr. Mehr spent nine days in Gaza. He and a team of American doctors with the Islamic Medical Association of North America brought bags of medical supplies, their help and expertise.

They lived at the European Hospital under the constant hum of drones.

And when the explosions started at about 8 o’clock every night, it was like their pager to report to the ER.

“And like clock work about 35 to 40 minutes after that you’d have mass casualties of patients coming in,” he said.

“I want you to help our viewers understand what it is really like on the ground, what the conditions are like,” Brean said while the two talked in his kitchen in Hornell.

“There is hopelessness. There is despair,” Dr. Mehr said. “I’ve been to Gaza many, many times and I don’t know how you come back from this. How you rebuild. I mean, it’s like, we saw 9/11 and we saw what took place in Manhattan and we wondered when will they ever get this cleared out and cleaned up? This is like 100 times worse than that in terms of the amount of destruction.”

But in the despair, Dr. Mehr discovered something incredible with the children.

They greeted him every day.

And he documented the children in cell phone video.

“Hello!” one child says to him with a smile.

“Hello, how are you?” he asks the child.

The video shows them swarming the American doctors like celebrities.

“I think that’s the toughest thing for me, after coming back, is wondering if my friends and the new friends I made and the children will still be alive or other people go back. That’s what I keep thinking about,” he said.

He said the European Hospital – one of the few remaining – is surrounded by families living in tents.

Dr. Ismail Mehr: “Imagine Strong Memorial Hospital. You’ve got Crittenden Boulevard, and I forget what the other street is there.”

Brean: “Elmwood Avenue.”

Dr. Mehr: “Elmwood Avenue. Imagine that just being tents and and encampments of people who have lost everything.”

Brean: ‘Was there an event you experienced or a person you met that you can’t stop thinking about?”

Dr. Mehr: “The children. The children. There’s a lot in terms of persons, but I would say the children. We would walk to the hospital every morning and walk back and they were treating us like celebrities. But I think the message was love. There was this little girl Sara, who would hold my hand every day when I would get out of work or be walking out in the afternoon and just want to walk with me. Initially when I got back, I’d get a little emotional thinking about them because I keep thinking wondering, will they still be alive next time I work in Gaza?”