For Dr. Baha Abu-Esheh, MD, PC, home is where he lays his head. Literally.
For the last 13 years, home has been Ardmore. Prior to that it was Tulsa, Dallas, Kuwait and Palestine.
His family fled the conflict in Palestine before he was born. He and his mother were born in Kuwait. He later came to America to pursue an education, which eventually led him to Ardmore.
“We have a huge family in Oklahoma City. When we get together, there are probably 100 now,” Abu-Esheh said. “I wanted to get closer to that.”
Abu-Esheh said he moved to Ardmore in 2006 with the intention of relocating to Oklahoma City within a few years. He and his wife quickly fell in love with the Ardmore area and decided it was where they wanted to raise their family. Thirteen years later, when asked about Ardmore, Abu-Esheh responds with, “this is home.”
Recently, his journey came full circle. Abu-Esheh returned to the Middle East on a mission. A medical mission. Abu-Esheh and a group of 13 other doctors,
comprised of surgeons, oncologists and other specialists traveled to the Gaza Strip and Palestine in Israel to provide medical services to the people living there.
“They picked a diverse group. Different ethnicities,” Abu-Esheh said. “Some of us from the US, others from the United Kingdom. Different religions. We had Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus. We all gathered on one thing. We are all humans going for a humanitarian medical mission.”
Due to ongoing restrictions on imports and travel into and out of the occupied areas of Palestine, including the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, basic necessities like medicine and electricity have to be rationed.
“There is a huge demand for supplies, a huge demand for education,” Abu-Esheh said. “Almost 50 percent of their medication is at zero stock, which means they have less than a month’s worth of supply.” Abu-Esheh said he was told the mission provided more than $250,000 in supplies and text books during the trip.
Abu-Esheh said that, like with most fields, continuing education was critical for health care professions, something Palestinian doctors are often denied due to the tight travel restrictions into the territory.
“Unfortunately, their machines are outdated. They are missing supplies. They can’t even leave to attend conferences. The under-siege areas, you cannot even get basic cancer medication in,” Abu-Esheh said. “Maybe, with time, we can help them out. Help their patients, help them with better outcomes.”
Abu-Esheh said 13 surgeries were made possible by the week-long mission, adding that one third of all Palestinian patients have their request to leave the occupied zone rejected.
“They don’t have electricity around the clock. It’s 2019 and you are talking about probably 8 to 12 hours in a day that you have no electricity. The good thing about the people there, they find a solution for everything,” Abu-Esheh said. “They get supplies, they get generators. Now hospitals, hotels, some areas like this, they have generators. The places you cannot truly lose that. Although, during one of the surgeries, they lost electricity in the operating room, waiting 10 to 20 seconds for the generator to kick in. We look at how we practice medicine here. Everything is given. You don’t even have second thoughts about it. Over there, every tiny thing you have to think about.
“This was my first mission, but it won’t be the last. It is really great to give back,” Abu-Esheh said.“When we first got there, they were thanking us. I objected to that. I said ‘no. no. no, we thank you. We thank the people of Gaza for giving us the opportunity to give back. This is an honor, the honor is ours. We thank you for letting us do this.’”
Abu-Esheh said the trip also held sentimental value for his family. His wife, who is from the Gaza Strip, hasn’t seen her family since 1999, and his father, who now lives in Ardmore, was born in the West Bank. Abu-Esheh’s first visit to Palestine allowed him to reconnect family -- mostly through Snapchat – some of whom had never met before.
“They haven’t been there in 20 years.  They have cousins they haven’t met,”Abu-Esheh said. “It was really an emotional ride - that I was able to take video of their cousins and show them. It was major for my wife’s family.”
While the trip held sentimental value for Abu-Esheh, some of the injuries he saw being treated were rather unexpected.
“The thing that broke my heart,” Abu-Esheh said. “There were 12 patients, eight of them, young guys, had gun shot injuries to the leg. All of them were the exact same. Snipers, they shoot them in the leg where they injure the nerve, where they cannot really move their foot. So they disable them while walking. Within two hours I saw more gunshot injuries to the perineal nerve in the foot than I have in the last 13 years. That was heartbreaking. It’s the same place. The same injury. You have to know the anatomy when you shoot and hit that nerve. That’s what is heartbreaking to me. Young guys in their late teens and 20s. You disable them and they need help from people around them, that is what is heartbreaking.”