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Connecting with heart in support of earthquake-torn countries

Dr. Ismail Al-Ani describes the Turkish people as generous and kind. They think nothing of welcoming strangers into their homes to share a meal — it’s just what they do.

Today, as he describes seeing a photo of a child’s shoe and a doll in the rubble following the recent massive early morning earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, Dr. Al-Ani can’t help but think about where that child is now and what happened to the house where she belonged. 

“You can imagine people just living normal lives, sleeping in their beds, and suddenly the building is collapsing from under you. And then, you’re basically in a graveyard. You’re buried there.”

The scale of the destruction caused by the Feb. 6 earthquakes seems unimaginable. News sources are putting the current death toll at more than 42,000 people.

Though this humanitarian crisis is unfolding nearly 6,000 miles away, Dr. Al-Ani, a Beacon Medical Group pulmonary intensivist at Memorial Hospital, and physicians from across the United States are rapidly gathering medicine, medical supplies and instruments to send directly to volunteer medical teams on the ground in Turkey that are caring for the earthquake victims.

“I couldn’t sit still and watch all of that — I couldn’t stand by and do nothing,” Dr. Al-Ani said, who was born in Lebanon and attended medical school in Syria. “It just breaks my heart to see this.”

He quickly learned that the Beacon team felt the same way and was behind him all the way.

Working together as a team
Dr. Al-Ani followed social media updates posted by fellow physicians in the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) about the disaster and what supplies were needed. In a fortuitous turn of events, one of the doctor’s colleagues at Beacon Medical Group had a connection with the Turkish Consulate General in Chicago to help with the logistics of transporting the medical supplies to Turkey.

Dr. Tansel Turgut, interventional and nuclear cardiologist, contacted the Turkish Consulate General office right away. And, not long after that, Dr. Al-Ani received a call: It was the Turkish Consul General himself, asking what he could do to help.

Soon, Dr. Al-Ani had the president of SAMS on the phone, too, and the group worked out the logistics to ensure the collected medical equipment and supplies would be sent through Turkish Airlines to the devastated areas.

Dr. Al-Ani then began contacting local companies to donate medicine and equipment, including looking to fellow colleagues at Beacon for help. He contacted Greg Piper, Beacon vice president of retail operations, to see if a donation of medical equipment and supplies might be possible. The answer? A resounding yes.

Sandy Smigielski, purchasing contract/source specialist at Beacon, along with records and equipment storage coordinators Roy Olivarez and Steve Roggeman, worked together to quickly gather the items from the Beacon supply hub including medical instruments, IV tubing, catheters, splints, gowns and gloves. Donated items included equipment that’s been replaced by newer technology or short-dated, meaning the supplies need to be used in a timely way.

“Sandy reached out to me and said, ‘We’ll be happy to help,’” Dr. Al-Ani said. “They jumped on it right away.”

A pharmacist from Chicago volunteered to pick up the first batch of supplies on Feb. 15 from Beacon and deliver them to the donation hub in Orland Park.

“We’re a team here and we really like doing things like this,” Smigielski said. “It’s good to see the supplies go to help those less fortunate and who need them.”

And, after working a 12-hour day in the Intensive Care Unit, Dr. Al-Ani drove a second batch of supplies to Chicago himself the same day. Why? Because that’s just what you do when you are Dr. Al-Ani.

“I’m just a simple person who has just watched what has happened and I wanted to help — that’s all.”

How you can help
Below are just a few of the organizations coordinating assistance for earthquake relief in Turkey and Syria:

  • Syrian American Medical Society
  • International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
  • UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency
  • Save the Children
  • Doctors Without Borders


Beacon strives to inspire health and connect with heart in our community. We recognize that outstanding care does not stop when our patients, associates, families and friends are outside the walls of our facilities. In times of extreme need, our definition of community expands beyond the cities and states we primarily serve and even beyond the borders of our country.

The earthquake that has impacted Turkey and Syria is one of those times. Many of our patients and associates have family and friends in the impacted areas. Many of us see the suffering brought by the destruction and just want to help in any way we can.

Dr. Al-Ani has a special connection to the impacted area and his tremendous effort to provide care to those affected has inspired our organization. Beacon is proud to provide support as a part of the global response to this disaster. As we have included the earthquake victims in our definition of community, we hope that others will join us in providing relief to the people impacted by the disaster.

— Dale Patterson, MD, MS, FAAFP, President, Beacon Medical Group

About Laura Bailey

Laura is a communications specialist at Beacon Health System. She enjoys sharing stories with the community about the talented team members at Beacon and winning against the computer in Scrabble.