This Refugee is Now Treating Heart Disease | USAIM

This Refugee is Now Treating Heart Disease

Hajer Naili's picture

June 20 is World Refugee Day. The world counts more than 25 million refugees who have been forcibly displaced due to war, violence and persecution. Since 1975, more than 3.3 million refugees have been admitted to the United States. Mohamed Heval Kelli was one of them. This is his story:

"My journey started as a Syrian refugee working as a dishwasher. Now, I am living my dream as an American cardiologist treating heart diseases. My family had to leave Syria because my father was oppressed by the Syrian government due to our ethnicity as Kurds. We left everything we had and became refugees in Germany in 1996.

We had safety and shelter in Germany but no perspective of a better life or platform for a future. Our last hope was applying for refugee status in the United States of America. After two years of vetting, we heard the three words that gave us a new life when the embassy officer said “Welcome to America!” We finally felt hopeful but 9/11 occurred.

It was a tragedy to the entire world. We did not think that we will be accepted in the US. However, we received a call to inform us that we had 3 days to leave Germany and resettle in a small town called Clarkston in Georgia.

We arrived to a country where we had no family and friends but a chance of a better future. During the first 48 hours, we did not leave our home because we were scared to find out how Muslims would be treated two weeks after 9/11. However, something happened and eliminated our fears. There were 10 members of All Saints Episcopal Church standing in front of our door on the third day in the United States. They brought us food and furniture, and hosted a welcoming party for my family. That's when we knew that America will be our home. A Muslim refugee family was welcomed by a Southern Christian church two weeks after 9/11. This defines the greatness of this country.

In order to make ends meet, I had to wash dishes as a high school senior few weeks after resettling in the US. My father was sick and my mother could not find a job. I was blessed to have the Church members teach us English. I was fortunate to have a great mentor like the wonderful heart surgeon, Dr Lattouf, who reached out to mentor me during my college years.

Fifteen years later, the investment of the U.S. and its great people into my family produced a heart doctor who is training at Emory University. Ironically, the university is located one block away from the restaurant where I used to wash dishes."


Hajer Naili
Hajer Naili is a Journalist and the Communications and Social Media Coordinator at IOM Washington, D.C. She previously worked as a web-reporter/photojournalist for the New-York based publication Women's eNews and was a freelancer for Al Jazeera Plus.

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