Q&A: Surgeon leads mission to care for world's neediest

Published: Monday, Mar. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 - 11:27 am

As president of the nonprofit Global Medical Foundation, Mohammed Siddiqui, a general surgeon from Jackson, has provided care to underprivileged and underserved people in a dozen nations on four continents.

Siddiqui recently led a medical mission to Beutajeran, Ethiopia, with 22 other volunteers, including three nurses from the Sacramento area.

Siddiqui, 64, was born in Bangalore, India, the son of a general practitioner. He earned his M.D. at Mysore Medical College, then completed his surgery residency at Chicago Medical School in 1983. In 2005 he and his family moved to Jackson, and in 2008 he joined the staff of Mercy Hospital in Folsom.

What inspired you to treat the world's neediest?

My father had this wonderful colleague, a gynecologist, and she asked me if I was going to serve my own people before I got to the U.S. So, fresh out of medical school, I became a country doctor in Karnataka, southwest India. I had humility thrust at my door. I saw real poverty. My patients were all laborers on coffee plantations. I vowed that if I ever had the opportunity to serve the poor, I would do it.

When did you start your missions, and what types of treatment does your team provide?

In 1993, I trained 14 surgeons in Bangalore to do laparoscopic gallbladder operations. I've pretty much gone on one or two missions a year, seldom more than two weeks at a time. As a solo practitioner, I have the luxury of going where I want. One or two of us go to scope out the location first to see if there's enough security, transportation, accommodations and local medical support. We require $25,000 to $30,000 per mission, mostly for medical supplies. We pay for our own airfare and hotels.

I do the same things I do in my practice here – abdominal, thyroid, neck and breast surgery, some burns.

What happened in Ethiopia?

We were 8,000 feet above sea level, 2 1/2 hours north of the capital, Addis Ababa. We operated on 96 patients from age 6 to 75 with gallbladder problems, hernias and breast cancer. We had small children with burnt hands, feet and necks because all cooking, washing and heat comes from the central fireplace and children are particularly vulnerable to burns.

We treated girls with complications from getting married at 10 or 11 and having babies by the time they were 12 or 13.

A gentleman in his 50s with a distended abdomen was dehydrated from vomiting so much. There are no X-rays, no labs done, so we made a purely clinical diagnosis. I made an incision looking for a bowel obstruction. There was none, but when I opened him up he had a gigantic, gangrenous gallbladder. As soon as we took that out, he started to become better. When we left he was eating, which was pretty amazing.

We had a wonderful orthopedic surgeon who used stainless steel nails to hold fractured, misaligned bones in place. There were flies buzzing through the operating room.

What have these missions taught you?

We are all the same; it doesn't matter which country you are from. We are fundamentally no different, just some of us are more privileged than others. All of us have the desire to help other people, regardless of how much or how little we have, and the poorer the country, the more generous the people are. The truly poor will give you anything, the truly rich will not.

What's your advice to aspiring doctors?

A couple of lines from Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate poet from India: "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy."

For more information, see globalmedicalfoundation.org

Call The Bee's Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Follow him on Twitter @stevemagagnini.

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