Female Syrian doctor saved lives in an underground hospital during airstrikes: Part 1

Dr. Amani Ballour speaks with “Nightline” about helping thousands of civilians who were injured by bombing and chemical attacks in a hospital 65 feet below the surface known as “The Cave.”
10:56 | 11/27/19

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Transcript for Female Syrian doctor saved lives in an underground hospital during airstrikes: Part 1
Reporter: In the western tip of Syria, the rain doesn't come often. Instead, airstrikes pound down from the sky. A constant in the civil war that has plagued this nation for eight years. Deadly chemicals poison Syria's people. The patients covered in dust, suffocating, come here to Dr. Ammani balure. By some estimates, nearly half a million people have lost their lives, 6.6 million displaced. Above ground, entire neighborhoods left destroyed and desolate. So below ground they went. Here, 65 feet below the surface is a hospital they call "The cave." It's scary, because you feel, you don't have any, anyplace safe. Reporter: Here in the cave, Dr. Ammani is in charge, the lead doctor at only 28 years old, a nearly impossible feat for a woman in Syria, but not for a woman like her. You wanted to do what girls don't get to do. I dreamed of it. I know I can do something different. I have this idea very early when my sister get married 13. Reporter: 13. Yeah, I didn't want that. I wanted to come with my study. And I insist to do that, but all people around me and my family, they refuse that, because because I'm female. Reporter: Against her family's wishes she began studying to be a pediatrician as bashar Al Assad began waging war against his own people. By then her city was under siege. They close everything, every entrance. And it was very bad situation. We don't have anything to eat now. Reporter: A fellow physician, Dr. Saleem newmoore had opened a small hospital underground. She went to volunteer. It was about 2 or 3-year-olds we have. We couldn't be up, because they targeted everything. Reporter: Hospitals. It didn't matter. Bomb the hospitals. They bomb the hospitals lot of times. Too many times. The hospital, six years, 20 or times later. Reporter: A syrian-born film maker had heard about Dr. Ammani and the plight of hospitals in the region. The hospital was established in Syria when the Syrian regime start to use the war plane, targeting intentionally the hospitals. Because the hospital where the victims come, where the people gather, where the people are protected. Reporter: He began filming "The last men in aleppo". A film that focussed on the rescue group "The white helmets." He says he witnessed the regime's brutality first hand. I was jailed, torture, they take my nails. They use a brutal way of torture. I don't know how I survive. Reporter: But he couldn't forget Dr. Ammani and decided that his next film would focus on the network of underground hospitals, and this indomitibling woman. I see something powerful in the gender and the situation of heroine female. Reporter: His team's footage would be used for the next film "The cave", done in conjunction with national geographic which flew us out to meet Dr. Ammani. It details the doctor's time underground, their hardships and Dr. Ammani is elected by her peers to lead the group, but there are patients who don't feel she is worthy of the title. They make me frustrated, because I can. I can do something. I wanted to do something. And the doctors in the hospital, they choose me to be the manager of the hospital. Reporter: It must be so important for little girls in Syria to see a woman do what you do. Yeah. I wanted that. I wanted them to see that. We have to break the barriers. We have to do something different. I wanted to support them and say you can, you can do that. Lot of little girls say to me, we want to be manager. We want to be doctors. Reporter: For Dr. Ammani, this is at the heart of what she and so many Syrians wanted in 2011 when the protests against the regime first started. I was very happy, I thought that out of revolution will be the same. We want freedom. It's very simple thing. We want dignity. When someone prevents you, he you feel angry at that. Something inside you push you. Reporter: This was the doctor's rebellion. Fighting to save lives, even as the regime seemed determined to take them. There's a moment in there after all you had seen when a woman loses her son. When you break down. What was it about that day and that moment and that child? Yeah, I was, you saw me crying in this moment, because I cry a lot before, you know, we are human. Not machine. I am doctor, I have to do my job. I'm not a martyr, but I know that what she felt. Reporter: How many children do you think you lost that you saw? During that period? Oh, lot of children. But I saw thousand of children. And I call them my children, because I love them. And unfortunately, I still, some of them dead in 2013 in the chemical attack. And others. We don't know what the problem is. We try to treat the symptoms. But we don't know that. It was sarin. Reporter: This was after the Assad regime had supposedly destroyed their high-risk chemical weapons. After this attack, doctor ammani made the gut-wrenching decision to leave. I love the hospital and everything in it. Every place, I loved it. I wanted to stay, and I tried. Me and my staff and all of us. We started really very brutal attack on us, on civilians especially. You cannot see anyone above the ground. When I get out the hospital, it's very hard, it's very hard. Reporter: Next, Dr. Ammani's journey out of Syria, and how her life has changed now she is a refugee. Forget about vacuuming for months.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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