Paying it forward
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 19, 2012 1:50 AM
State Rep. Efton Sager, left, presents a plaque to Dr. Dawod Dawod at the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville while N.C. Military Order of the Purple Heart chaplain emeritus Bill Carr applauds.
FAYETTEVILLE -- He could see them burning -- the buildings that had, until an infamous fall morning, graced the horizon he was met by after long shifts inside Bronx-Lebanon Hospital.
And even though Dawod Dawod was not bound, by birth, to the city -- or country -- attacked by terrorists Sept. 11, 2001, watching smoke billow from the twin towers was a defining moment for the man who had come to America for a shot at prosperity.
He immigrated to prove them wrong -- the people in his homeland who told him that he was foolish to believe that an Egyptian physician could live up to the standards set by the United States medical community.
"Everybody told me, 'You can't be a doctor there. You're old. You come from a certain country. You won't be competitive,'" he said. "I said, 'No. What I read and what I saw and what my brother told me is that in this country, you can be a human being equal to any other person. Whatever you want, you can do.'"
So when, after realizing his dream, he witnessed an event that changed the world, he, like many, felt compelled to act.
"I was signing out after covering the floor, and across from (the hospital), you could see the top of the towers. So you looked out and you see the smoke and then you looked at the television and you see the fire," Dawod said. "That day, I said, 'I must do something.' From that day, when I saw those towers falling down, I said I need to give back something to this place that gave me everything."
He wanted to join the Army -- to provide care to the fighting force he felt certain was destined for war.
"But they said I am too old," Dawod said. "So I joined, immediately, the VA. The people told me, 'If you want to serve them, serve them this way.'"
Back in Egypt, he was already a physician.
But Dawod dared to dream of something more.
"All my life, I was hoping to come to America to be a doctor," he said. "So in 1995, I decided to come to the United States to prove myself."
His first stop was Duke University, where, for more than a year, he conducted research before joining an organization dedicated to AIDS intervention.
And after moving to New York to complete his residency at Bronx-Lebanon -- and living through 9/11 -- he found his calling back in North Carolina.
"Our patients, you need to love them in order to serve them. They are not like others. Not everyone in his life is exposed to war or fire or fighting," Dawod said. "So if you don't love them, you can't serve them, because you are going to be involved in many things. They have many problems. I'm not just treating diabetes. I'm treating a person who has been through many things."
And even though being there for them often means sacrificing time with his own family, he sees his role at the VA as payback for all his patients did to ensure the American Dream existed for men like him.
So he brought his wife, Mona, and twin daughters with him to Fayetteville Friday to witness what unfolded inside a simple conference room.
"Here is the reward," Dawod said, moments after a group of veterans honored him for his commitment to them. "I wanted them to see this."
And the awards he received that day were more, he said, than just accolades.
They were a chance to teach his 14-year-old girls a valuable life lesson.
"I wanted my children to come with me to show them that you need to work, and that people, if you work hard, will recognize you. My daughter, she said, 'We only see him for 15 minutes in the morning and for dinner at night,' so I wanted them to see that this is something very precious," Dawod said. "I want them to see why I felt this is my land, my country -- that the more we give, the more we get.
"It's not like other countries. Here, you can achieve what you want as long as you work hard to prove yourself."
A Purple Heart recipient pulls himself up out of a chair and addresses the crowd that has gathered in one of the conference rooms nestled inside the VA Medical Center.
It has been nearly 40 years since he was first treated for wounds sustained during a firefight in Vietnam, but he still feels the pain inflicted by an enemy bullet that severed his sciatic nerve.
Dawod knows the man's history.
He has been treating the retired Marine for years.
So when Bill Carr called him "the best doctor I have ever had," when he told Dawod just how much he means to the veterans living in North Carolina, the doctor was humbled.
"You know, I've been in the VA system since 1975 and you are the best doctor I have ever had," Carr said. "That is why we're doing this today."
But he was not the only one who spoke during the ceremony.
State Rep. Efton Sager had something to say, too.
He started by reading a letter signed by Gov. Bev Perdue, one that characterized Dawod's service as a "noble sacrifice."
And then, on behalf of his constituency, he extended thanks.
"The great thing is that so many times, our military people get recognized, and, certainly, they have made a big sacrifice and so have their families," Sager said. "But there are also other people, like doctors and people like that, who are also doing a noble cause. They are true patriots, and they need to be recognized."
"He is a patriot," he said. "He saw those towers fall and he wanted to do something for his country. And we are so lucky that he did."
"I'm just doing my duty," he said. "That is all."