Allied bomb left surgeon 'one good eye' to carry on WAR IN THE GULF

March 07, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

HADIYA, Kuwait -- Egyptian surgeon Hamid Labib Ahmed now peers through glasses strapped to his face. His nose and left eye were blown away in an allied bombing attack that hit the grounds of a hospital, he said.

The allied bombs that hit the grounds of Al-Adan hospital Feb. 9 killed five civilians and injured 36 others, none of them Iraqis, according to hospital officials.

It is not known whether the Iraqi use of the hospital -- including putting an anti-aircraft gun on the roof -- had made it a military target, or whether the ordnance simply fell in the wrong place.

Dr. Labib never thought that the hospital would be a target. He and his wife, Ikhlas Ahmed, also a physician, had stayed on in the facility, in a suburb about 16 miles south of Kuwait City. So many others had fled the Iraqi invasion that the hospital was short-staffed.

He saw the allied plane dodge anti-aircraft fire as he and his wife were hurrying to their dormitory for their children during the 2 p.m. air raid, Dr. Labib said yesterday. He saw the explosives launched -- he was not sure whether they were rockets or bombs -- "and then I don't remember anything."

When he came to, he felt his own injuries, then saw another Egyptian physician's wife who had been beheaded in the blast. Also killed were a 3-year-old Filipino child, a female Filipino nurse, a male Indian X-ray technician and the Indian husband of a nurse, he said.

Allied bombing raids were said to be precise and aimed only at military targets. The casualties at this hospital have not been previously reported.

Other medical facilities in Kuwait City have said civilian casualties inflicted by the allies were very small. According to those who were here, most of the abundant destruction seen in the city was caused by Iraqis.

At the hospital, the craters from four blasts straddle the rows of eight family dormitory buildings about 150 yards west of the main buildings. Most of the buildings housed the Egyptian, Indian and Filipino staff of the hospital, although two housed Iraqi medical personnel.

About 100 yards north of the dormitories was an Iraqi military encampment that Dr. Labib believes was a headquarters. And beyond a line of trees nearby was another anti-aircraft gun to supplement the one mounted on the hospital roof by the Iraqis.

Dr. Labib bears no malice toward the forces who bombed the hospital grounds.

"I know the Iraqis hide their military in with civilians," he said. "We were not allowed in certain areas [of the hospital], so I do not know what they might have had there.

"I am not bitter at the allies. They are not the reason for this," he said. "The reason for this is the bloody Saddam and his bloody Iraqis."

Dr. Labib and his wife are regarded as heroes at the hospital, according to other staff members. They stayed when others fled, and Dr. Ahmed, an anesthesiologist, worked round-the-clock because there was no one else with her specialty.

As the Iraqis took over, they moved civilian-clothed medical personnel into the facility. The regular staff members were restricted in where they could go and what they could do. "We were scared," said the surgeon.

Dr. Ahmed said they stayed because they feared the dangers of flight with their three children and because they felt safer at the hospital: "We never thought they would bomb a hospital. It is international law."

Both the doctors had just left duty Feb. 9 when they heard an airplane and anti-aircraft fire. They rushed to their home in the staff dormitories, a series of brick, three-story buildings, each housing about 30 families.

As they reached their building, their children ran out toward them, and one of the four bombs landed about 25 yards away. That bomb caused four of the five fatalities but did not seriously injure Dr. Ahmed or her children.

All four explosives landed between the buildings, but the concussion blew holes in the brick walls, collapsed some floors and shattered windows. The Iraqi medical personnel who lived in two of the buildings were all away: They were eating lunch in the cafeteria in the main hospital building, and so were not caught by the blasts.

A week after he was wounded, Dr. Labib was operating again. His services are needed, he said. He walked slowly, and bandages covered his left eye and nose.

"My philosophy is that God left me one good eye to see, and he left me my hands to work. I will keep working," he said. He also keeps a sense of humor.

"If I were a patient, and my surgeon looked like this, I would be frightened," he joked.

But his first 10 surgeries since he returned to work have been mostly trauma patients, "and they're already unconscious when they get to me, so I'm all right."

Dr. Labib says he will continue working here as long as he is needed. But he despairs at getting reconstructive surgery to his own face. His left eye is lost, but his nose could be rebuilt, he believes.

But there is no facility for such operations in Kuwait, and he does not know how he might get to the United States or where he would go for the work.

"Do you know how I could do it?" he asked.

"I am not sorry now that I stayed in Kuwait, even if I got this deformity," he said. "But I do want an operation.

"My children were right beside me [when the bomb hit]. My wife was right there. I am just happy that this happened to me, not to them."

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