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Injured Libyan fighters praise warm welcome at Salem hospital

Almost two weeks after 22 injured Libyan rebel fighters were brought to Spaulding Hospital North Shore in Salem to receive medical treatment, three of the men spoke to journalists today, discussing the injuries they sustained while battling to overthrow Moammar Khadafy’s government.

Some of the Libyans have undergone surgery to repair broken bones or nerve damage. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are working with mental health therapists.

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“The things that are awful about war have nothing to do with the nation you come from or the language you speak,” said Kevin Love, an occupational therapist at Spaulding who has also worked with American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the patients, Ramadan Aliah Naser, said through a translator that he was helping to expel Khadafy’s troops from his hometown in April when he was hit in the leg by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Lying in bed, the 37-year-old Naser said he is grateful for the opportunity to receive medical attention in the United States, and was surprised by the warm reception he has received.

“It has been a kind and very sincere welcome,” said Naser. “It has changed completely my vision of America.”

Medical staff at the hospital underwent cultural training to prepare for the Libyans’ arrival. Nurses learned to ask patients for permission before moving aside a Quran to set down a meal tray. They were made aware of dietary requirements -- practicing Muslims do not eat pork -- and planned meals and medicine schedules to accommodate prayers five times a day.

Hospital administrators set aside a room for the Libyans to use for religious purposes. Prayer rugs cover the floor, and the window faces the direction of Mecca.

“Everybody went to the ultimate degree to try to recognize these folks’ sacrifice, but also to assure that they don’t feel way out of water,” said Dr. Ross Zafonte, Spaulding’s vice president of research, education, and medical affairs.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.
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