Chicago doctor among 3 killed in attack at Afghanistan hospital

Written By By JON SEIDEL Staff Reporter Posted: 04/25/2014, 02:21am
Array Lawndale Christian Health Center, 3860 W. Ogden. Thursday, April 23, 2014. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Dr. Jerry Umanos could have gone anywhere.

But first he chose the Lawndale Christian Health Center on Chicago’s West Side. Umanos took a job there nearly 30 years ago as the center’s first pediatrician, treating inner-city patients for a medical resident’s salary, former CEO Art Jones said.

Then, nearly a decade ago, the Wayne State University medical school graduate took his expertise to war-torn Afghanistan after realizing the plight of the children on the other side of the globe.

“He very well knew the risk,” Jones said. “But that’s what he thought he should be doing.”

Now family, friends, colleagues and patients around the world are grieving Umanos’ violent death after an Afghan government security guard opened fire Thursday on a group of foreign doctors at a hospital in Kabul, killing three American physicians, including Umanos, 57.

His widow, Jan Schuitema, told The Associated Press her husband loved the Afghan people, and she said her family holds no ill will toward the country or the gunman. Schuitema, who now is a teacher in Chicago, said they always knew the danger of Umanos’ volunteer work in Kabul but weren’t afraid because of their Christian faith.

“We have lost a dear friend,” said James Brooks, chief ministry officer of the health clinic in Lawndale. “Our clinic is grieving right now. Our hearts are broken.”

Schuitema’s brother, Brian Schuitema, said his sister last saw her husband when the couple vacationed in Turkey earlier this month. Umanos also left behind three adult children, he said.

“It is a tragic loss,” Brian Schuitema said. “But he was doing what he liked to do.”

Bruce Rowell, the Lawndale health center’s chief clinical officer, said Umanos was a pediatrician there for more than 25 years — treating many staff members’ children. In Afghanistan, Umanos taught medical residents and saw pediatric patients, Rowell said.

More than 30 staff members at the health center also have traveled to Kabul, according to Umanos’ online biography.

“We have lost a very, very dear friend and devoted colleague,” Rowell said.

Later, Gov. Pat Quinn offered condolences.

“Dr. Jerry helped countless people throughout his lifetime,” Quinn said in a statement. “While there are no words in the English language to ease the pain, we can find comfort in his life’s work and all those he healed here at home and around the world.”

Two of the Americans killed in Thursday’s shooting at Cure International Hospital in western Kabul were a father and son, Health Minister Soraya Dalil said. An American nurse also was wounded in the attack, Dalil said.

Their colleagues at the hospital performed surgery on the shooter, who was wounded during the course of the attack, officials said. The attacker served in the Afghan Public Protection Force and was assigned to guard the hospital, District Police Chief Hafiz Khan said. His motive wasn’t clear.

The APPF is an armed security force under Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior that was created to protect foreign organizations that hire it.

Back in Chicago, Umanos was remembered as a doctor who “didn’t necessarily have his white jacket on all the time.” Standing on a street corner outside the health center in Lawndale, former state Rep. Arthur Turner said he took his boys — including current state Rep. Arthur Turner Jr. — to see Umanos.

“He could relate to the kids,” Turner said. “And he also knew how to keep parents calm.”

Jones, who described himself as a “good friend” of Umanos’, said he visited the doctor twice in Afghanistan. He said people there “greatly valued” Umanos’ work, and he took note of how difficult it was for Umanos to practice medicine in Afghanistan.

“He was pretty much out there by himself,” Jones said.

Meanwhile, danger lurked. Jones said he had dinner with Umanos a couple of months ago. And he said his friend let slip concerns for his safety during the Afghan elections. But again, Umanos said Afghanistan was where he belonged.

“He always knew that something like this could happen,” Jones said.

Contributing: Associated Press

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