Jerry Umanos, the Chicago pediatrician gunned down in Afghanistan, would have wanted people to respond to his death by opening their hearts to those who live in the war-torn nation, his wife said in a tearful statement.
“Our family and friends have suffered a great loss and our hearts are aching,” Jan Schuitema told reporters in front of the couple’s Kenwood home Thursday afternoon. “While our hearts are aching for our loss, we’re also aching for the loss of the other families as well as the loss, the multiple losses, that the Afghan people have experienced.
“And I know Jerry would also really like everybody to know about his love for the Afghan people and our love for the Afghan people and that we don’t hold any ill will towards Afghanistan in general, or even the gunman who did this. We don’t know what his history is,” she added.
Umanos was among three Americans killed when a police officer working as a security guard opened fire at a Kabul hospital funded by a U.S. Christian charity. He was gunned down along with a father and son visiting the Cure Hospital, which specializes in children’s and maternal health, according to Afghan officials.
“As they were walking out of the hospital, the security guard opened fire on them, killing three and wounding another one,” an Interior Ministry official said.
A friend and colleague said Umanos had become more worried about his safety. He had been shot at while jogging, and a dentist who lived in a neighboring compound had been killed in January.
“He was obviously concerned,” said Dr. Art Jones. “At the same time, you can’t count the number of children that Jerry’s impacted, the lives he’s saved on his own, and with the doctors he trained. That’s who he was. He was driven by the kids.”
Umanos had worked as a pediatrician at Lawndale Christian Health Center on the West Side for more than 16 years when he and his wife moved to Afghanistan. Umanos worked at a community health center and at a children’s hospital in Kabul, helping train Afghan doctors.
“Jerry always wanted to serve under-served populations” his wife said. “Afghanistan was just one of them. He always had a desire to be the hands and feet of Christ. He had a love and commitment that he expressed for the Afghan people because of that love for Christ.
“He saw the need. He went, as did I for several years. And that need continues,” added Schuitema, who is a special needs teachers for Chicago Public Schools.
Usman Sharifi, 28, a military doctor who has worked as a journalist for AFP for the last two years in Kabul, said he saw Umanos at a wedding reception in the center of Kabul the night before the attack.
“He seemed very happy and nice,’’ Sharifi said during a phone interview. “He seemed comfortable.’’
Umonos was sitting at a table with about or 7 or 10 others and shook hands with the groom when he came in, Sharifi said.
“Dr. Jerry was there with some Afghan doctors to attend the wedding party of Dr. Wasy Payenda, who had been trained as GP in Cure Hospital,’’ Sharifi said. “They were trying to get him to dance the Afghan way.’’
Sharifi was not at the hospital at the time of the attack, but was working at an office about 5 or 10 kilometers away. “I called a doctor friend and asked, ‘What has happened? Is everybody fine?’ He said in a sorrowful voice that ‘We are fine but Dr. Jerry is dead.’
“So I called two more doctor friends and they also confirmed, one was crying. They were all Afghan doctors, colleagues working in Cure Hospital,’’ Sharifi said. “I couldn’t believe Dr. Jerry was dead because I had seen him happy and well and alive in the wedding hours earlier.
“It’s very tragic,’’ Sharifi said. “How could this happen? I was shocked, it’s the first time a hospital was attacked.”
Dr. Yousuf Khan, a general practitioner at the Cure Hospital who worked with Umanos for six years, said Umanos was an excellent trainer of new doctors.
“It’s a real shock for us,’’ Khan said by phone from Afghanistan. “Dr. Jerry was a great person. He was a great supporter of our patients.’’
Khan was not at the hospital at the time because he was on leave, but plans on returning soon.
“We’re not thinking it’s possible,’’ Khan said of the attack. “We will miss him. We hope that God will bless him.’’
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SOURCE: Chicago Tribune
Rosemary Regina Sobol, Mitch Smith, Kim Geiger and Andy Grimm