Ohio Physician Killed in Pakistan During Medical Mission

May 29, 2014

Mehdi Ali Qamar, MD, had a very personal reason to become an interventional cardiologist. His mother had died of a heart attack in his native Pakistan "and there was no care available," said friend and colleague Abdus Malik, MD.

Dr. Qamar, who practiced in Lancaster, Ohio, went on to help establish a state-of-the-art cardiac hospital in Rabwah, Pakistan, his birthplace, to save lives in this medically underserved community.

He had just arrived in Rabwah for a 3-week medical mission when he was shot to death at point-blank range on Monday by 2 gunmen as he was leaving the cemetery where his parents were buried, according to news accounts. His wife and 1 of his 3 sons, a toddler, witnessed the murder. They were unharmed.

Dr. Qamar's death came slightly more than a month after Illinois pediatrician Jerry Umanos, MD, was shot and killed at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, by a rogue police officer.

What motivated Dr. Umanos' killer remains unclear. However, Dr. Malik and others said there was no doubt about what inspired the murder of Dr. Qamar. He belonged to the Ahmadi sect of Islam, which is outlawed and persecuted in Pakistan. The country is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Dr. Malik, who is president of an Ahmadi community organization in Columbus, Ohio, told Medscape Medical News that Dr. Qamar's death is the latest in a series of brazen sectarian assassinations covertly sanctioned by the government. Dr. Qamar knew his life was in jeopardy during his summer sabbaticals at the Pakistani heart hospital, according to Dr. Malik.

"When we go to Pakistan, we know we are targets," said Dr. Malik.

Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar. Courtesy of Fairfield Medical Center

Heart Hospital Served Mostly Non-Ahmadi Muslims

Dr. Qamar evidently had the cool head needed to work in a hot danger zone.

"He was never stressed out," said Dr. Malik, who together with Dr. Qamar was on the medical staff at Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster, Ohio. "He was the calmest person in the room."

He called Dr. Qamar a "true embodiment of a person who has dedicated his life in the service of humanity."

"He was the sweetest man, the most harmless, very caring," said Dr. Malik. "He was always smiling."

Dr. Qamar earned his medical degree at Punjab Medical College in Pakistan and went to Maimonides Medical Center in New York City for a residency and fellowship in cardiology and interventional cardiology. Before his death, he had practiced in a 3-physician cardiology group in Lancaster.

Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar at Fairfield Medical Center. "He was the calmest person in the room." Courtesy of Fairfield Medical Center

He raised money to build and sustain Tahir Heart Institute, an Ahmadi-sponsored hospital in Rabwah. "Tahir is open to all people," Qasim Rashid, a spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, told Medscape Medical News. "Religious affiliation has nothing to do with it." Dr. Malik estimated that 95% of the patients are non-Ahmadi.

Dr. Qamar's murder drew immediate condemnation from the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA). The gunmen "have taken away the life of man who was a healer, someone trying to help people," APPNA President Asif Rehman, MD, said in a news release.

Dr. Malik said the tragedy "is making us more resolute in our intent to serve the poor [in Pakistan]." Retaliation is out of the question, he added.

"We turn the other cheek," Dr. Malik said. "We never strike back. This is not how we were brought up."

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