Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs High School juniors on Friday got an unfiltered look into the atrocities occurring in war-torn Syria.
Dr. Samer Attar, who volunteered as an orthopedic surgeon in an underground, make-shift hospital in Aleppo, was visiting Steamboat to ski. He began his talk by showing the students what life looks likes from the eyes of a second-grade girl in parts of Syria.
In her crayon drawing, helicopters are dropping bombs, her home is destroyed and her friend is decapitated from an explosion.
That is what life has been like for the past six years as an estimated 500,000 have been killed, many by their own government.
Attar spent his time at the M10 Field Hospital, which was code-named to disguise the location because hospitals and schools are oftentimes targeted, as are doctors, nurses and the “white helmet” rescue workers.
“I’m considered a terrorist by the Syrian government,” Attar said. “I’m not a terrorist. I’m an American.”
Attar spoke about one school that was bombed and a boy he treated with human bone shrapnel wounds.
“The last thing he remembers seeing is his friend exploding,” Attar said. “Other people blow up into you, and it’s horrifying.”
Amputations were common, and Attar showed the picture of a boy who lost both legs. The boy asked Attar for robotic legs.
“He thought I could deliver them like a pair of gym shoes,” Attar said.
In another case, Attar and other medical professionals were unable to resuscitate a boy. They later learned the boy’s father had brought his son to the hospital after he had already been declared dead at a different hospital.
The wounded would quickly fill the hospital after an attack.
“It’s like having 50 balls in the air, and you try to catch as many as you can,” Attar said. “You can’t save everyone.”
Instead, they had to decide who would live.
“We were making those decisions all the time,” Attar said.
At one point, Attar was trapped in Aleppo because the road had been sieged.
“I just kept working,” Attar said.
He was able to escape to Turkey, but he left many coworkers and friends behind. He said he shares his experience to pay tribute to those people.
The hospital Attar worked at has since been destroyed, and the government overtook Aleppo.
This week, the United States launched a missile attack that destroyed about 20 percent of Syria’s aircraft. It was in response to last week’s chemical attack by the Syrian government that killed 89 people.
Attar said many Syrians were happy to learn a western nation was exerting its military force.
“The question is where do we go from here, and what do we do to move forward,” Attar said.
Attar held the attention of the high school’s junior class.
“That was incredible,” student Jimmy Colfer said. “Hearing about it from him was eye-opening.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland