Injured professor speaks with family for first time

by Jessica Trobaugh Temple ’92

ND teacher survived Iraq bombingp. p. Gilburt Loescher, the University of Notre Dame professor emeritus who was seriously injured in last month’s bombing of the United Nations’ headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, spoke his first audible words to his family Monday.p. “It was great,” his wife, Ann, said through tears during a phone interview from the family’s home in England.p. Among his treatments after the blast, Loescher, 58, received a tracheotomy, according to postings on a Web site established by his family. On Thursday, in an British hospital, he received a smaller breathing tube that “allowed him to speak to us for the first time,” Ann said.p. After the bombing, Loescher was airlifted to a military hospital in Germany. On Sept. 3, he was transferred to a British hospital near his home.p. The joyous occasion for the Loescher family comes on the heels of a second bombing near the U.N. Iraq headquarters this week.p. Ironically, on the same day, Loescher shared through gestures, expressions and rough whispers what he could remember from his Aug. 20 ordeal, according to the family. And for a period of time, he breathed without the aid of a respirator.p. He also asked about the fates of friends and colleagues Arthur Helton, of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, and Brazilian diplomat and U.N. envoy Vieira de Mello, with whom he was working. Both men died in the bombing.p. Loescher survived but lost both of his legs as a result of the explosion that also injured his right hand. The threat of infection has also necessitated several surgeries.p. Loescher and Helton were in Iraq writing reports on postwar humanitarian conditions in the country and the cost of its reconstruction for the organization openDemocracy.p. A member of Notre Dame faculty since 1975, and a fellow in the university’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, Loescher is a world-renowned expert on refugee issues and humanitarian crises.p. His published works include “Refugee Movements and International Security” and “Beyond Charity: International Cooperation and the Global Refugee Problem.”p. “It’s no accident (Loescher) was there,” said colleague Robert Johansen of Loescher’s presence in Iraq. “He has an unusual sensitivity to people who’ve faced human suffering … refugees or victims of war or other disaster. He is an unusually sensitive and caring person.”p. Johansen, a professor of political science and a senior fellow at the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, said he worked closely with Loescher during his years at the university. Some of Loescher’s former students have e-mailed Johansen, expressing their appreciation for their former professor.p. Loescher has devoted his life and professional work to helping people who have been displaced or victimized, to helping the voiceless find their voice, Johansen said.p. “He was a leading scholar on international humanitarian assistance. He was a very objective, careful researcher. But he also had a heart that really cared for people. Gil was a person who wanted to contribute to the alleviation of human suffering.”p. Johansen and his wife had visited the Loescher family after they moved to England, and the professor met up with Loescher at international conferences.p. One particular meeting, in Katmandu, Nepal, resonates in Johansen’s memory.p. “I was going to the airport and (Loescher) was staying five days longer because his daughter was meeting him there and they were going hiking in the Himalayas,” Johansen said.p. The two men exchanged comments on the rare and special opportunity. "I said, ’that’s great,’ " Johansen recalls.p. “I couldn’t help but think about that when I thought about his injuries,” Johansen said. “He will never hike again in the mountains. And I felt so thankful that he had that experience.”

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