In the city of Aleppo, where snipers routinely take aim at children crossing between rebel and regime-held areas for the sport of it, Yasser is trying to calculate his next move. A father of four, including a severely autistic son, his options are diminishing.
Before the war engulfed the town of Aleppo, Syria's "second city" and home to over 2.3 million people, Yasser was a dentist with his own private practice near Sheikh Maksoud. His practice, along with much of his neighborhood, was destroyed during intense fighting last March. Next to his house, near a "hot area" occupied by the Free Syrian Army, three cannons go off at random intervals throughout the day and night, and are met with shelling in return.
That's when the bouts of terror begin for Yasser's son, Simon. Twelve years old and severely autistic, Simon is unable to control his fear and starts to panic. His breathing accelerates and he starts to hyperventilate, then, enraged, he destroys his toys and rips apart his bedroom.
Before the war, Simon had been progressing well under drug therapy. But Simon's family had to end his treatment when all of the medical specialists in the field of autism disappeared, and obtaining drugs became almost impossible. 30 pills of Strattera now cost $150, and Ritalin is no longer available.
After hearing of the deaths of many family friends and relatives, his youngest daughter Marisia, age 4, trembles whenever she hears gunfire. The family turns up the TV and tries to drown out the scary noises, but as the fighting in Aleppo intensifies, power outages last longer and are more frequent, and nights are filled with trembling, screaming, and panic. The most recent has lasted for seven days, with the family crowding together in the one, dark room of the apartment farthest from the mortars that fall in the street behind his building.
His request is simple, "Help me to get out this hell as soon as possible before it gets worse." But helping him is not as simple as encouraging him to leave for Turkey, the closest border to Aleppo. Throughout the escape route there are snipers, and under current circumstances his family would have to live for at least six months in a refugee camp - a risk he has not been willing to make for the sake of his children, especially given the current state of health of his son, Simon. Simon needs treatment.
Among the Syrians escaping the violence, in many ways Yasser is at an advantage: with the savings he has left, a good command of English, a medical degree in dentistry, as well as a background in pharmaceutical sales, he is willing to try his luck in Europe or the United States, where he can resume treatment for Simon. For this he needs only a visa, to enable him to get on a plane and start a new life for his family. For more information, please visit GoodSpeaks.
(In 2017, Yasser submitted an update on his family's situation: Update from Syria: A father of a severely autistic boy shares their struggle).
The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.