Dr. Farouk Matte enjoyed power and prestige in Baghdad. Then came the invasion. Today, he tries to get by on an entry-level job in Columbus. "I have fallen far," he says. "To the bottom of the well."

Dr. Farouk Matte enjoyed power and prestige in Baghdad. Then came the invasion. Today, he tries to get by on an entry-level job in Columbus. "I have fallen far," he says. "To the bottom of the well."

For most of his years as a surgeon in Iraq, Farouk Matte had the good life. When he was the head of the department of surgery at Alyarmook Teaching Hospital, the second biggest in Baghdad, he had prestige, money and power. His family belonged to the elite Aljadyria, a club run by Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, where Olympic athletes came to swim. His three children went to the top private school in the city. And Matte could buy them expensive toys and take vacations at the family's house in the northern part of the country. "We would go there at least twice a year, in summer and sometimes winter," he says. "Sometimes we went to the lakes. We had picnics with our friends and neighbors. It was a great life."

But then the bombs started to drop.

Matte remembers exactly where he was when the Iraq War started on March 20, 2003, with the invasion of the country by the United States military and multinational forces.

"It was around 1 am when I first heard the bombs falling and I was at my house," he says. "I went to the hospital immediately. A few hours later, I was performing surgeries on the wounded."

These days, he performs no surgeries. He hasn't held a scalpel in more than a year. Instead, he and his family live in a modest apartment in Hilliard, where they arrived as refugees nearly a year ago. Matte works for Us Together, a Columbus-based resettlement agency. He drives newly arrived refugees to appointments and does some interpreting. It's a job a high school dropout could do.

It's not hard to imagine him in a doctor's coat, doing the rounds at a hospital, preparing for surgery, looking at charts, making diagnoses, talking with patients. In Iraq, he was well known for his skilled hands that wielded a scalpel effortlessly. But his medical degrees from Iraq are not valid in the United States. To become a licensed American surgeon, he would have to leap over many challenging hurdles. Three of the biggest ones are earning a certificate for foreign medical graduates from a recognized school of medicine, serving a 24-month residency and passing English tests (oral and written). And then there are the matters of money (of which he has little) and age (he's 58).

His story echoes the plight of many refugees who have made huge sacrifices so that they can experience freedom from persecution and live to see their children have a better life. Tens of thousands of refugees have flooded into Columbus over the past 25 years, arriving from such countries as Somalia and Ethiopia. Some come from deep poverty, some from refugee camps and some from monied professional backgrounds. Based on rough estimates from different sources, there are 150 to 400 Iraqi refugees in Central Ohio.

Few have fallen as far as Matte. From being a highly regarded surgeon in Iraq and later Jordan, he now shuttles immigrants around in a car and worries about the future of his family.

"I have fallen far," he says. "Very far. To the bottom of the well. And, yes, I am scared."

Like everyone in Iraq six years ago, Matte had heard all the drumbeats of war, the charges and counter-charges, the talk of weapons of mass destruction and the heated rhetoric of George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein. And he had lived through the Gulf War and economic sanctions. But when he heard the shelling that day, he thought the Americans would win quickly and restore liberty to Iraq. Though his practice-which included a lucrative private clinic on the side-thrived under Saddam, he had no love for the dictator.

Yet he says he could never have imagined what came to pass after the American forces rolled into Baghdad and the city became engulfed in flames, with looting taking place on every corner. "Instead of liberty, the U.S. invasion unleashed terror," Matte says. His eyes slightly bulge at the memory of it. "Believe me, all the anarchy and insanity, all the extremists inside Iraq were let out of the bottle."

Nowhere more so than in Baghdad. As the country skidded into chaos, thousands of Iraqis were dying or critically wounded each month, and Matte's skills as a surgeon were deployed as never before. Some days, as many as 70 people came into the hospital's trauma center. "It was very disturbing. The storage facilities that kept the bodies were often filled," Matte recalls. "In that case, we would have to put the corpses on the dirt outside the hospital, where wild dogs devoured them and dragged them away."

Every month, Baghdad became more dangerous. People were kidnapped from their cars or assassinated, their bodies mutilated. Car bombs exploded almost every day. Then the Ministry of Health was taken over by a militia run by Shiite leader and rebel Muqtada al-Sadr.

"That was a bad turning point. We were now run by thugs," Matte says. "They had no medical experience. It was a disaster. As an indirect result, more people died."

Then there were his religious beliefs. Matte is Christian. "Before the American invasion," says Matte, "being a Christian was acceptable in Iraq. But afterward, Christians had a lot of trouble in the country. The Muslims in Baghdad made it difficult on us. They tried to force us to convert and pay money to them, like extortion. And in some cases Muslim militias forced Christians to flee their homes."

In addition, doctors were threatened and killed. Nor were the murderers brought to justice. "Why would people kill the healers?" Matte asks, his eyes like two open wounds. There's a tone of pleading and suffering in his voice. "But that's what my country had become-a place of madness."

Matte remembers the case of one doctor, Mohammed Samer, as a harbinger. "Dr. Samer was a friend of mine who also had his own clinic, and he was examining a patient one day in 2006 when the man turned on him and shot him dead. We had no idea why this happened. There was an investigation, but you never heard about it. Life was cheap."

In fact, the killing of physicians became routine in Iraq. (Some 120 doctors were killed in Iraq after the invasion, according to a story in Newsweek.) Sometimes the assassins just wanted the doctor's snazzy car or his house or money. Other times, the patient didn't like the physician's diagnosis or fees. "If the doctor predicted death or failed to find a cure, that might provoke an assassination attempt," Matte says. Some doctors hired bodyguards, he says, "But I felt that could attract unwanted attention. So I decided against it."

Just getting to and from work was a journey fraught with danger. Matte would drive from the hospital and see corpses by the side of the road in his neighborhood. And sometimes he would have to make his way home while insurgents were fighting and shooting each other. "The bullets would be flying," he says. "And I would just pray. Every day I prayed for the lives of my wife and children."

As bad as things were, Matte soldiered on, hoping for improvement. But life changed forever when the letter came. He still doesn't know who sent it. It arrived at the hospital one day in 2006. When Matte opened it, a cold spike of fear shot up his spine.

"Inside the envelope, with my name on the outside, there was a single bullet," he says. "Nothing more." Matte took the threat seriously, and, like thousands of other Iraqi doctors, he fled the country, leaving behind two brothers and four sisters. He moved his family to Jordan, where he got work as a surgeon in the capital, Amman.

"It was the best I could come up with at the time," he says. "We started a new life in a new country. We hoped for the best. But nothing turned out as I expected."

Matte recently passed a surgical assistant's exam that would qualify him to work with a surgeon in the U.S. But he has had no offers of employment in Columbus other than his job with the resettlement agency, though he has applied for many positions.

"They all turn me down when I apply," he says. "The trouble is, nobody knows me here in Columbus. I have no connections." As an afterthought he adds: "And perhaps I am viewed as too old."

It is painful for him not to be working in a hospital. He feels cut off from the occupation that gave his life meaning and focus. In Iraq, he was so busy with patients, he had little time. Now, he has too much. "I cannot buy the things my children want," he says of his three teenagers, who all attend Hilliard Davidson High School. "I cannot afford it. I am just surviving."

He looks sad and anxious, but doesn't seem bitter. There are pouches under the pouches of his eyes. He talks gently, humbly, and stops short at times to ponder what he has said. He offers refreshments to a reporter. "Here, please, eat. And we will talk more."

His wife, Bushra, a civil engineer who teaches mathematics part-time at ITT Technical Institute in Columbus, comes into the room and smiles. She places tea and cookies on the table in front of the couch. Her English is better than her husband's. She speaks candidly.

"Farouk is very disappointed and is always angry or sad," she says. "He creates trouble in our household because of his emotions. Once he had a prestigious job, but now he lost it and has a low-level job. Our three kids don't blame him for what happened. He was a provider once. Now he can't provide. And that's a very big thing for an Arabic man to face. But our children are having fun and they are adapting to American life."

Matte doesn't disagree with this assessment. He shrugs his shoulders.

"Dr. Matte was a very good general surgeon," says Dr. Abdelhadi Breizat, director of Jordan's Al Bashir Hospital, where Matte worked for almost a year. "He was great with patients and staff. He was a serious surgeon, mature, experienced and well-regarded."

Told of Matte's predicament, Breizat said, "I hear from many people it's not easy to practice medicine in the U.S. coming from a foreign country because of the many regulations. I think we have to work to make it easier for doctors to go from one country to another."

"He isn't getting a chance to practice his profession," says Tariq Tarey, a resettlement worker for Jewish Family Services who helped Matte get a job. "He's a great surgeon and he's driving people around in a car. What's the sense of it? He should be working in a hospital."

When Matte moved with his family to Amman, he thought he was going to escape the misery that consumed his native country. He had a decent job at a large hospital, though at half his previous salary. The faculty at the Jordan hospital welcomed his talents since Iraqi doctors were highly regarded. But from the start, things went badly.

Amman has a significant Palestinian population, and Matte says they have no love for Iraqi refugees. "The Palestinians taunted us for being the ones who killed Saddam Hussein," he says. "That was constant. Everywhere we went, we were subjected to that ridicule. Then, I remember, my son Rami played soccer. He was jeered by the Palestinians. And one day, during a practice, it was suddenly announced that all Iraqi kids had to leave the soccer field. It was as if all Iraqis in Jordan were criminals."

Breizat, who hired Matte, was reluctant to answer any questions about the treatment Matte and his family received in Jordan. But he insists that "we don't tolerate any racism against any other nationalities here in Jordan. We are friendly with all people whether they are Kurdish, Christian, Shiite or Sunni."

Still, two months after he and his family arrived in Jordan, Matte applied to the United Nations as a refugee. After nine months and a complicated application process, including an interview with and an investigation by the U.S. State Department, the Mattes beat the slim odds and were granted asylum. They were assigned to arrive in Columbus in 2008.

Like all refugees, Matte and his family experienced difficulties. He says the resettlement process was less than satisfying. The family apartment was not ready on

time and he and his family had to stay in a one-room Travelodge at their expense. "We spent 16 days at the motel and then when we came, there was almost no furniture, which we were promised," he says.

His family is covered by Medicaid, which he calls a "blessing." And they get $297 a month in food stamps. But money is scarce in the Matte household. There are no luxury vacations as in the days of old, no gourmet foods. Every nickel is counted.

He is happy, however, with his apartment and the freedom of life in the U.S. "It is really a good place for my children," says Matte, who plans on becoming an American citizen. "They will succeed and have benefits."

Coming here, he says, he had no unreasonable expectations. He never thought he would land a surgeon's position in the U.S. But he wasn't prepared for the fact that he would be working a dull,

low-wage position. The hypertension and irregular heartbeat he had in Iraq have worsened. And there is the free-floating fear. Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night in dread, thinking about his uncertain future, obsessing about how far he's fallen and feeling powerless to do anything about it. "Bushra is only making a little bit of money; she has only a few hours teaching. And so I feel sometimes worthless, less than adequate."

His voice is tinged with melancholy. He says he would be happy working at anything in the medical field. But his eyes are downcast, as if that hope is nothing but a pipe dream. "They can test me, examine me, do whatever they want. I would be happy working as anything in the medical field," he says.

Iraq is experiencing a shortage of physicians. They are reportedly paying twice the normal salaries. Would he ever go back?

He shakes his head.

"No, I would never go back," Matte says. "My family will grow up in America."

Jory Farr is an author and freelance writer.