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Dr. Nasir Syed was a frontline physician in the pandemic, a pulmonologist treating people severely ill from COVID-19. In August, he contracted the disease himself.

Initially admitted to Resolute Health Hospital, Syed was transferred to Methodist Hospital in the South Texas Medical Center before being flown to Dallas in search of a lung transplant, people close to Syed said. On some days, his condition would improve, and on others, it deteriorated.

On Monday, the 61-year-old physician and leader in the local Muslim community died of complications from COVID-19. 

“He was working hard on both fronts, making sure that people don’t get COVID at mosque and in treating COVID-19 patients,” said Dr. Aamir Ehsan, a friend of Syed’s. “It was so unfortunate, being a lung doctor, that he himself fell victim to COVID in such a bad way.”

Syed was known for being humble and focused – a devout Muslim, family man, and community-oriented San Antonian, those close to him said.

“I ask everyone to remember my dad,” Syed’s 26-year-old son Owais said. “He was advocating for everyone to take this pandemic very seriously. He sacrificed his life for that.”

Syed practiced medicine for more than 20 years and will be remembered for how well he cared for each of his patients, said colleague and friend Dr. Muhammad Talib. 

“I think the main thing he will be remembered for is how compassionate he was,” Talib said. “He was always available for any person.”

Born in Pakistan, Syed completed his undergraduate studies in the United Kingdom before returning home for medical school. Following his time in South Asia, Syed went on to do his residency in internal medicine at Lankenau Medical Center in Pennsylvania. He completed a fellowship in pulmonology at Hahnemann University Hospital through Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Syed practiced medicine in Wisconsin for two years before he moved to Texas in 2003 with his wife and their two children. They made San Antonio their home in 2006.

He was very involved in San Antonio’s Muslim community and served as the chairman of the Board of the Muslim Children Education and Civic Center (MCECC) for three years prior to his death. Syed served as an interfaith chaplain in several local hospitals as well.

Resolute Health Hospital chaplain and director of pastoral care Jeremy Roy said he got to know Syed very well during their time together in New Braunfels. Syed was like a father figure to many of the nurses and staff members, he said.

“There was a strength about him, but he was very lovable,” Roy said. “You could say it this way: He was kind of a lovable grump. He’d grump around the unit, but everyone, everybody loved him.”

Members of the Muslim faith honor and recognize the life of Dr. Nasir Syed during a Janazah Prayer at the Muslim Children Education and Civic Center on Tuesday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

When helping someone at the end of their life, Syed was always steadfast in his faith and served as a calming presence to the patient and their loved ones, Roy said.

“The way he practiced medicine, related to the nurses, and to all of us in other positions, he really approached it like it was, I would say, a calling,” Roy said. “He was a good, good guy.”

City Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) said he was “heartbroken” to hear of Syed’s death. He got to know Syed well due to their frequent interactions within the District 8 community.

“My district has the largest concentration of Muslim families in San Antonio because we have the largest mosque in town, so I’ve spent time with their community, and through that time I got to know the leadership and board,” Pelaez said. “Dr. Nasir [Syed] was very active at the MCECC and within the [local chapter of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America].”

Pelaez said he will remember Syed for starting a free health clinic that was open to everyone – Muslim or not – who needed aid. Pelaez added that Syed was “tireless” in his work to help the San Antonio community. 

The fact Syed died of the very disease he’d been treating for months is particularly tragic, Pelaez said. He added that Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the mask mandate across the state earlier this week makes his friend’s death even more heartbreaking.

“The irony should not escape anybody, that he’s a pulmonologist and that he lost his life to COVID-19,” Pelaez said. “Somehow this governor believes it’s smarter to go with this movement of anti-intellectualism and to buy into conspiracy theories than to be concerned about our health care workers.”

Talib said Syed took stringent measures to protect his himself and family from contracting the virus, but still dedicated himself to his work.

“His family members, they never had it, and he was not one who was going to public places,” Talib said. “In fact, he was so cautious, he would change his clothes in the garage and then take a shower before going inside [his home].”

Syed is survived by his five brothers; his son Owais, 26; daughter Asma, 23; and wife Tazeen. Owais Syed is a medical resident through the University of Maryland in Baltimore, and Asma Syed is a first-year medical student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.

His daughter said her father was a kind, dedicated man who inspired her and her brother to pursue medicine. Tazeen Syed said her late husband was a devoted spouse and father who always made time for his family and community.

“He was a frontline fighter and died while serving people,” she said. “That is how we will remember him always – as someone who gave away his life while curing and caring for others.”

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.