On August 4, 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of the city of Beirut, Lebanon, exploded, causing approximately 200 deaths, thousands of injuries and billions of dollars in property damage. The devastating explosion destroyed the endodontic practice of one our own: Dr. Kristel Tabet (this video capture and the images below depict the destruction). The AAE was able to connect with Dr. Tabet, who told her story in this Q&A interview.
AAE: Please tell us how you first learned the news that your practice was impacted by the explosion.
Dr. Tabet: I had just arrived home, earlier than expected, as my last patient had rescheduled his 5:30 appointment. I felt the ground shaking and thought we were experiencing an earthquake. As I ran towards my kids to get them to safety, I heard an extremely loud and powerful blast. By the time I reached them, they were in shock and terrified. While attempting to reassure them, I dialed my husband but couldn’t get through. Finally, he called to tell me that he was safe but was driving back to help our office manager Dina. She had sustained minor injuries from the trauma. Because hospitals were operating above capacity and could only treat the most critically injured, the wounded flocked to medical and dental offices for treatment of injuries. Although the office was severely damaged, my husband remained there late into the night to suture and support the injured. As much as I wanted to join and help, I had to stay home with our three young children. As photos of the destruction emerged, I felt fortunate and thankful that my family and staff had survived the explosion.
AAE: How are you and your staff coping? What is going through your mind right now?
Dr. Tabet: While we are thankful for miraculously escaping harm, our hearts are shattered for the 200 innocent lives lost (including children), the 6,500 wounded, and the 300,000 people who have lost their homes and/or businesses. This has been exceptionally trying for Lebanon. We have been struggling with a severe economic crisis, political unrest, the COVID-19 pandemic and now this catastrophe. But I find myself inspired by the resilience of the Lebanese people who are determined to rise once again, no matter how great the challenges may be.
In our office, we have wonderful team members who have worked together cohesively and prided themselves in caring for our patients. Being at work symbolized stability, comfort, and healing. So now, we have to begin anew. We have to rebuild physically, mentally, and emotionally. We are eager to return to some sense of “normal”.
AAE: What steps are you taking to get back to practice?
Dr. Tabet: We started cleaning the day after the explosion with the help of total strangers who volunteered their time and talent, a true reflection of the Lebanese giving spirit. I will never forget seeing hundreds of volunteers in streets passionately extending a helping hand. The unity of these strangers as they gathered highlighted their love of life and determination to rebuild and keep moving forward, even in times of despair.
We know of several dental offices that were also severely affected by the blast. Unfortunately, some decided not to repair and are looking to leave the country. We were fortunate to discover that we still had one functioning dental chair. Despite the office still having broken doors and windows, I resumed seeing patients within three days to treat emergencies and traumatic dental injuries related to the blast. Over the next few weeks, we are planning to fix the structural damage to our office, including the doors, windows, tiles, and to replace the dental equipment that are damaged.
AAE: As you continue to make sense of what happened, what lessons have emerged? Has anything surprised you about accepting what has happened? About what it takes to rebuild?
Dr. Tabet: The explosion was a reminder of the beauty, fragility, and unpredictability of life. We will rebuild. Of that, I have no doubt. “Rebuilding” is relatively easy. But the emotional and psychological recovery is challenging. I am deeply saddened for the lives lost, the broken families, the wounded, and the countless lives forever changed by this catastrophe.
One of the most valuable lessons that has emerged is that the human spirit is resilient and generous, as evidenced by the efforts to rebuild. We have already received much needed and appreciated international support to help us through our recovery. We couldn’t possibly do this alone.
AAE: Any final words to our readers?
Dr. Tabet: I am fortunate enough to have two homes: The first is Lebanon, my homeland and birthplace, this tiny beautiful place off the Mediterranean Sea. Anthony Bourdain described Beirut best when he said, “There’s no place else even remotely like it — Everything great — and all the world’s ills — all in one glorious , magical, maddening, magnificent city.”
My second home is the United States, the country that welcomed me for 24 years, made me feel safe and hopeful, the country that opened the doors of opportunity, where I received an outstanding education. Some of my life’s most cherished memories are the ones made in the United States.
How can the AAE members contact you if they wish to offer support?
Dr. Tabet: Dr. Alan Gluskin, Dr. Colleen Shull, Ms. Kelly McNamara, the AAE community, faculty and colleagues from both Case Western Reserve University and Boston University reached out to express concern and offer support. This is an incredibly bright spot in an otherwise very dark time! I am extremely proud to be a member of such a compassionate organization.
Since the explosion, I have been supporting an emergency and humanitarian relief campaign called, Li Beirut. It is dedicated to assisting three NGOs in the sustainable recovery of Lebanon’s capital.
For those who may be interested in helping, further information can be found at www.togetherlibeirut.org.
The Lebanese Dental Association is also collecting funds to support more than 300 dental offices affected by the blast. I am happy to provide additional information if interested: Kristeltabet@gmail.com.
Dr. Kristel Tabet graduated from John Carroll University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She received her Doctor of Dental Medicine from Case Western Reserve University in 2008. Upon graduation, she moved to Boston to completed a Certificate in Advanced Education in General Dentistry followed by a specialty training in endodontics at Boston University in 2011. She practiced in offices limited to endodontics in Boston and Cleveland before returning to Beirut in 2014.