USF Health administrator stuck in Lebanon

As U.S. evacuation efforts stall and Israeli bombs explode nearby, Mohamed Kasti, chief operating officer of USF Health, has found himself stuck in Lebanon with his wife and 18-month-old son.

According to Michael Hoad, Kasti’s co-worker and the associate vice president of USF Health, Kasti left earlier this month to visit his family near Beirut. Upon leaving for a typical vacation, there was no way for anyone to anticipate the rapid escalation of tension in the area. Kasti and his family were taken by surprise by the violence.

The three were originally staying with Kasti’s father in the mountains, but were compelled to leave when Israeli forces began bombarding the area. The barrage also decimated Beirut Airport, which further limited evacuation efforts.

According to Hoad, the family is now staying with Kasti’s in-laws northeast of Beirut. Although it is safer there, they are not out of danger as the whole of Beirut has become dangerous.

While in Lebanon, the Kasti family met up with USF Health surgeon Dr. Michel Muir and his wife. The group is now traveling together.

Family friend and co-worker Seena Salyani expressed his confidence in Kasti saying “we have faith in his problem-solving skills. He has proven that he stays calm under fire and he is used to working in a high-pressure environment.”

According to Salyani, Kasti was happy to return home to a Lebanon that he thought was making progress. Formerly an ambulance driver in Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war, Kasti is familiar with the discord in the area. Thanks to his familiarity with the local roads, he will be prepared to evacuate at very short notice.

Kasti, who is already eager to leave, has found his anxiety compounded by concern for his wife and son. He drives 30 minutes daily to retrieve information from the U.S. embassy in Beirut.

“They are disseminating information via the Web but it is kind of slow when you are anxious to (evacuate). So I actually drive to the embassy every day,” Kasti said in an interview for NPR on WUSF.

The first wave of evacuations began Wednesday, with a cruise boat taking American citizens to the nearby island of Cyprus.

“They are taking the medical cases first, then in a few days evacuations will start,” Kasti said. “”I don’t know when I’ll be back in the States because once I’m in Cyprus, there’s 25,000 of us, so to find airlines and connecting flights to get to our destination will be a nightmare.”