INDIANAPOLIS — Two doctors from Riley Hospital for Children share more than a native Arabic tongue, they both felt the same calling years ago, to care for the sickest of kids.
“They are in the ICU very sick and about to die and see them walking on, getting their life again, seeing their family and how happy they are about the progress,” Dr. Samer Abu-Sultaneh said. “It is something that energizes me every day to come back to work.”
“Working with children and their family is a privilege, I think I am honor to be part of this, I think we make a lot of kids and a lot of families happy and getting back healthier and getting back out of here,” Dr. Riad Lutfi said.
Both are immigrants. Lufti immigrated to the United States from Syria, Abu-Sultaneh is from Jordan. They grew up just a little more than an hour apart from each other but met nearly 2,000 miles away, when they began working at Riley Hospital for Children.
Nearly a decade later, they work side by side within Riley’s Intensive Care Unit. Both have made Indiana their home but their hearts weigh heavy with family so far away.
“A majority of my family is still in Syria, I was lucky enough to get my parents here, you guys may know, the political issues started in Syria in 2011,” Lufti said. “It turned to unfortunate civil war so I was able to get my parents here in 2015. So they live really close to me, the vast majority of our family is still back home in Damascus.”
Both doctors use their skills to address health care disparities overseas, especially in the Middle East, through Riley International Heart Missions.
“We are lucky to treat many refugee kids, a lot of them are from Syria,” Lufti said.
Through the program, Lufti and Abu-Sultaneh typically take two 10-day trips a year, performing up to 15 complex surgeries each time.
“I wanted to be part of the improvement of healthcare in general in Syria and especially for pediatric patients,” Lufti said. “That was my passion.”
“Coming after here to get my training, to get more tools and skills so I can help here and back in Jordan was something that you know, it was that my decision,” Abu-Sultaneh said.
While it is personally rewarding to help families back home, those trips have provided throughout the years eye-opening experiences for these doctors and lessons that they bring back to Indiana.
“I also take a lot from the care we provide in the Middle East, a lot of time, kids get better without us doing more, so sometimes I try to have the balance of what I learn from back home to make it here with appreciation with all the support and technology we have here in the US to support our children,” Lufti said.
Another life experience these doctors have shared, they both recently became United States citizens.
“I am really grateful, the first word, I think I am grateful for all the journey,” Lufti said. “To be able to get here 16 years, to get citizenship, it is full of hard work. It was emotional.”
“Indiana is home, our relationship with our family, with our friends here, it's more of a family you know,” Abu-Sultaneh said. “So I can’t see myself going anywhere else.”
Lufti got his citizenship last November and Abu-Sultaneh got his last month. They are both dads and are looking forward to going back on Riley International Heart Missions once it is safe again to travel.