27 May 2002
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Mohamed G. Atta, M.D.
Mohamed Atta, M.D.: My research interests included: (1) Genetic cloning of the human gene that encodes the sodium myo-inositol cotransporter (SMIT). This transporter is essential for cell volume regulation in response to hypertonicity.1 (2) Studying the transcriptional regulation of the human SMIT gene.2 (3) Subsequently my focus was to explore the potential role of protein phosphorylation in regulating the activity of osmolyte transporters in response to hypertonic stress.3 (4) At present, I am conducting a prospective cohort study to determine the prevalence of vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) in outpatient dialysis patients.
By Murray Weiss
The New York Post
May 28, 2002 -- Just days before Sept. 11, Mohamed Atta visited the Big Apple for a whirlwind weekend with his new bride - taking in a Broadway play, fine French food and an evening of jazz near Times Square.
But this Mohamed Atta was not the hijacker who crashed a jumbo jet into the World Trade Center. The New York City visitor was a soft-spoken kidney specialist from Maryland whose horrible case of mistaken identity has led to months of harassment and ethnic profiling.
Within days of the World Trade Center attacks, the renowned doctor received threatening calls, as well as a visit from FBI agents tracking his credit-card slips from the Helmsley Hotel and the "Les Miserable" box office.
Even now, nine months later, Atta and his wife, Sophie, are embarrassed by his now-infamous name, especially when they travel or use credit cards.
They were horrified when it was erroneously reported that the terror-attack leader was casing the Twin Towers days before Sept. 11 - even after the FBI concluded it was just the kidney doctor, who had planned to take his wife to Windows on the World for dinner in the north tower.
"New York is the best place in the world, the best city in the entire world, and I have traveled all my life," said Atta, a distinguished renal and gene specialist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital who spent his three-year residency at Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan.
"I had the greatest time of my life when I did my residency," said the Egyptian native, recalling living just off Third Avenue and hitting Pete's Tavern and other local watering holes on payday.
He interned at Michael Bloomberg's School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins.
His heart sank on Sept. 11. "It felt so terrible," the 40-year-old Atta said. "I was shocked."
When the hijacker's name surfaced, he thought, "Oh, my God. This is amazing. That was the initial shock. It was something I could not believe."
He quickly called his wife.
"I cried when I saw the towers hit," recalled Sophie, a Moroccan native who is a nurse. "It was so heartbreaking. So awful. And then to be linked to it. It hurt so much. It's like a nightmare."
The FBI arrived at their home on Sept. 13.
"That was pretty big," Sophie said. Her husband told her not to panic.
But they spent a few nights with friends before trying to return to normal. They avoided the news as much as possible.
"My patients and our friends were wonderful," Atta said.
But the couple's lives were altered.
"You never know how much you use your name on a daily basis until something like this happens," Sophie said. "People say, 'Oh, my God.' "
The ordeal has been tougher on Sophie, her husband said.
"We came back to New York recently from Paris and they stopped me and took my passport and checked it and asked me questions," Sophie said.
"Do you know why I took the passport?" the agent said. "You could be Mrs. Mohamed Atta."
Pointing to her husband, Sophie replied, "You're right. Why don't you take his passport?"
"Well, he's dead," the agent said.
The Attas returned to New York two months ago. Mohamed said he felt an emptiness approaching the city without the towers, which used to give him an "amazing feeling" signaling he "was there."
The couple stayed at the Helmsley, went to see "Figaro" at the Metropolitan Opera, and dined off Fifth Avenue. The busy reservation agents and clerks did not recognize their name.
Before leaving, they drove to Ground Zero.
"I used to go there when I was a student. There used to be so much life, and now there were big holes and construction work," Atta said.
The Attas often talk about moving to New York, hoping their good deeds will bear more weight than their now-infamous name.
"You never want your name to be linked to something this terrible," Sophie said, choking back tears. "I wish we could just wake up and it would all be different."