Maine hospitalist hopes to return to native country to continue volunteering
by Larry Beresford
Syed Irfan Ali, MD, a hospitalist at MaineGeneral Medical Center's Thayer Campus in Waterville, recently was honored with the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Nasreen and Alam Sher Foundation (NASF) for volunteering his medical skills in his native Pakistan.
In November 2011, during a visit to his family, Dr. Ali spent two weekends offering free medical services at Aisha Bibi Memorial Hospital, run by NASF in a village near Karachi. Dr. Ali's uncle heads a pharmacy company in Pakistan and arranged for free medications to be distributed. Approximately 2,100 patients turned up with complaints, such as malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, lung disease, ear problems, peptic ulcer disease, skin conditions, and gynecologic infections. "Many of these people had never been to a hospital before," Dr. Ali says.
One case that stands out for Dr. Ali was that of a 7-year-old boy who had 15 fractures from a congenital bone condition known to respond to bisphosphonate treatment. Dr. Ali was able to refer the boy to a major hospital in Karachi, where he received the treatment.
"I was trained in family medicine, where you treat people of all ages," says Dr. Ali, who came to the United States in 2004 after completing medical school. "My friends in America, who are working doctors, and I feel we owe a debt to our native country and the people who live there." He started collecting funds for flood relief in 2010 but wanted to do more.
"Now that I've had such an experience, I'd like to go back, and also mobilize my medical friends to get involved," he says.
Chelsea, Maine-based NASF supports health, education, humanities, and peace in South Asian countries. Later this month, Dr. Ali will move to a residency program in anesthesiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, but he hopes to return to Pakistan, perhaps at the end of this year.
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