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Syrian Medical Student Treated Some 70 Patients After Suspected Chemical Attack

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

One of the big questions today is what the U.S. will do about an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government. It happened over the weekend. President Trump said today that he could make a decision as early as tonight on how to respond.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It was an atrocious attack. It was horrible. You don't see things like that. As bad as the news is around the world, you just don't see those images.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Those images include women and children foaming at the mouth, families lying unconscious in their homes, and people wearing oxygen masks and struggling to breathe. The attack happened in the city of Douma in eastern Ghouta, which has been bombed for the last month.

CORNISH: Medical student Mohammed Samer has been working at a hospital there.

MOHAMMED SAMER: Friday evening, the regime started to bomb the city. We faced (ph) a lot of injuries and amputations. We were very tired. You know, after about 30 hours without no stop, then the chemical attack happened.

KELLY: Samer told us he treated some 70 patients who had been poisoned.

SAMER: They told us that they feel like they will die because they can't take a breath. There were bloody cough, and the patients were in a coma.

KELLY: Samer is 23, and we asked how he's doing. He insisted he's fine.

SAMER: Yes, I'm fine, just tired after what we watched. And then now we face the forced displacement from our land. You'll leave your home, and you'll leave your streets. You'll go alone to a place you don't know. And I wonder if I will continue my study or if I will back to the high school. I am tired of - from thinking about that.

CORNISH: He started to speak in Arabic after that, describing the toll this work has taken on him. Samer says he's used to seeing people die.

SAMER: (Through interpreter) It's normal for me, unfortunately, just to walk by 50 dead bodies. Yesterday, I was just walking by as they were preparing to bury those who died from the chemical attack, and it was OK. It's normal to smell death every day.

KELLY: Normal to smell death every day. Samer says he doesn't have much hope for the future.

SAMER: (Through interpreter) We thought that one day, the international community would do something about the attack on Ghouta. But now Ghouta's story has ended with the end of Douma, and it'll disappear from the map. They're just going to keep talking, and no one is going to do anything.

KELLY: Tomorrow, the medical student says he plans to leave his hometown and get on a bus headed for another Syrian city, Aleppo. He told us he doesn't think he'll ever be back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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