When Jerry Umanos finished his residency, he didn’t set up a private practice as a pediatrician or seek out a high-paying job. Instead, Umanos went to a new health center in Chicago that was focused on improving access to health care — and a place that couldn’t offer him as much money as other facilities.
“We didn’t have a lot of people knocking on our door to come work at the health center, and he did,” said Art Jones, the founding chief executive of Lawndale Christian Health Center.
That dedication to helping people in need was what led him to spend more than a quarter of a century at Lawndale and it is what brought him to Afghanistan nearly a decade ago.
Umanos was one of the three Americans killed Thursday when an Afghan security official opened fire at an American-run Christian hospital in Kabul. He was greeting two American visitors at the gate of the hospital when the gunman walked up to them and opened fire, The Post’s Tim Craig reports from Kabul. Umanos and both visitors were killed, while two others were wounded.
“This loss is a great loss for his family, for those of us he worked with as well as for the people of Afghanistan,” Bruce Rowell, the medical director of clinical quality at Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago, said during a news conference Thursday morning. “He was a loving, caring physician who served all of his patients with the utmost respect.”
The people who work at the clinic “have lost a dear friend,” said James Brooks, a pastor and Lawndale’s chief ministry officer, at the news conference. “Our clinic is grieving right now,” he said. “Our hearts are broken.”
Umanos “could have gone pretty much anywhere he wanted to go” after he finished his residency in Michigan, Jones said in an interview Thursday. But he wanted to find a way to have the greatest impact on people.
When Umanos initially came to Lawndale, Jones had to turn him down because the facility was operating on “a shoestring budget” and lacked the money to hire him. But Umanos was persistent and was willing to come work for the same salary he made as a resident.
Umanos was very well-liked by his patients and colleagues, said Jones, who added that Umanos was the pediatrician for Jones’s two children.
“The patients were first in his mind, and his life was sort of secondary to that,” he said.
Several years ago, Umanos visited a couple from the clinic that had gone to Afghanistan to help people with tuberculosis. And Umanos said that you could eventually find people to work in inner-city Chicago, “but there weren’t a lot of people willing to come work in Afghanistan,” Jones recalled.
So Umanos began spending the majority of the year in Afghanistan, coming back for a month or two to work at Lawndale and spend time with his family before returning, Jones said.
In Afghanistan, Umanos was not isolated from violence. He had gone to a popular Lebanese restaurant in Kabul multiple times before it was attacked by Taliban insurgents in January. And a dentist he lived near had been killed a few years earlier.
“He knew the dangers,” Jones said. “But he was really drawn to serving those kids.”
Umanos graduated from medical school at Wayne State University and had his residency at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, according to a biographical page that had been posted on Lawndale’s Web site.
“He was a great person, a great doctor,” Angie Schuitema, Umanos’s mother-in-law, told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a great loss. He was doing what he wanted to do. He thanked God for allowing him to help people there.”
In addition to his work with Cure, Umanos had been the community health coordinator for Empowerment Health, a non-profit dedicated to improving the health of Afghan women and children, helping to form the group’s community healty programs.
Umanos had worked for years to develop training programs to give Afghan women better health education and skills, according to Evan A. Russell, co-founder of Empowerment Health.
“Our efforts in the community will continue on, and we remain deeply committed to the mission to which he devoted his life, but Jerry’s daily impact on this program, and on so many other people, will be missed forever,” Russell said in an e-mail to The Washington Post.
Cure International, which operates hospitals and programs in 29 countries, said no other patients or staff members were injured in Thursday’s shooting. The organization also said that Cure “remains committed to serving the Afghan people.”
This post has been updated. First published: 2:03 p.m. Last updated: 4:09 p.m.