‘Every single day, I’ve watched small children die’: American nurse shares heartbreaking work in Gaza

ABC News

(JERUSALEM) — “Every single day, I’ve watched small children die.”

Those are the words of Nurse Brenda Maldonado from Washington State, describing to ABC News what she witnessed over the past two weeks.

During that time, Maldonado said, she had been working in two of Gaza’s main hospitals. Her deployment to work as a healthcare professional there was organized by Med Global, a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization.

There are currently believed to be only ten partially functioning hospitals in all of Gaza, according to the World Health Organization. Most of those are in central and southern Gaza.

Maldonado divided her time between the Al-Aqsa Hospital, in central Gaza, and the European Hospital, near Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, tending to those in need in one of the most difficult environments in which to work in the world.

Maldonado said what she has seen during her time in Gaza will stay with her forever.

“It doesn’t get easier,” she told ABC News. “You don’t get used to it.”

For her own safety, it’s only now that she has left Gaza that ABC News can share Maldonado’s story as she worked there, following her and documenting her journey – into the hospital each day through cramped tent encampments, through hospital corridors filled with patients for whom there are few beds.

“Any time we get mass casualties, which is almost every single day, the patients are brought in and placed directly on the floor, and we’re treating them,” Maldonado said.

Some of them survive, according to Maldonado. Many do not. And many of those who do survive have nowhere to go once they recover, so they often remain in the hospital where they were treated, living in those same corridors.

And the injured keep arriving. Mass casualty events, Maldonado said, occurred nearly every day she was in Gaza.

“A lot of blast injuries, shrapnel injuries, children, older people,” she said. “Everybody of any age, not soldiers. I haven’t seen a soldier since I’ve been here. It’s basically civilians.”

Since the Israel-Hamas war began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, which killed at least 1,200 people and injured 6,900 others, more than 34,000 people in Gaza have been killed and 77,143 injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. The latest United Nations information counts at least 224 humanitarian workers among the dead.

At least 1,700 people have been killed in Israel and 8,700 others injured in the war, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Maldonado says she’s seen many children, some as young as toddlers, arrive at the hospital with head traumas, many of whom have taken “their last breaths here in front of us.”

It’s not just bullets and bombs, however, that are killing and injuring children. Many die in traffic accidents, while still others fall victim to unsafe, inhospitable conditions in the crowded camps, including severe burns from boiling water.

Oftentimes, there was little Maldonado or the local hospital staff working alongside her could do but watch the victims die, she said.

“It makes me cry every time … because it’s not right, you know,” Maldonado said. “It breaks my heart.”

Yet the threat of increased danger looms, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to insist that the country’s forces will enter Rafah, which they believe is a Hamas stronghold. More than a million civilians from other parts of Gaza are also believed to be sheltering there, according to the United Nations, with Gaza’s healthcare system already barely able to cope.

“It’s crippled. Absolutely crippled,” Maldonado said. “It’s heartbreaking, because we could probably function much more efficiently without all of the people here. Right now, there are just massive crowds of people, running throughout the whole hospital.”

“But I don’t blame them,” Maldonado said. “I don’t blame them.”

Since the war began, Egypt and Israel have largely prevented foreign journalists from entering Gaza, except on rare trips embedded with the Israeli military. Maldonado’s account offers an uncommon glimpse at life in southern Gaza. The humanitarian situation is believed to be even worse in the north, where hunger is widespread and communications are difficult, according to the U.N.

Maldonado, reflecting on her journey, said she has “mixed feelings” about leaving Gaza. However, what she keeps coming back to, again and again, is the devastating impact of the war on Gaza’s children. At least 14,000 have been killed so far, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

“You know, I think [of] all the children, but I think probably more than anything, are the children that have had, traumatic amputations,” she told ABC News, recounting the story of a “beautiful” 12-year-old girl who was brought into the hospital with her left arm “completely blown off.”

“She’s probably living in a tent,” Maldonado said. “What kind of a future is she going to have? …[And] the children who lost their legs. … And, I just have to wonder, you know, how are they going to do in this situation?”

“[There is] no end in sight right now,” Maldonado said. “So that weighs heavily on my heart.”

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