Best of America

Best Disaster Doctor

My wife passed away seven and a half years ago, and I went through a huge depression, the worst time in my life. I was a bit suicidal. I continued to work as a small-town doctor at my medical clinic in Kilauea, Hawaii. My kids had gone to live on the mainland, and I was alone.

On a family trip, we turned on the TV and saw the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. I said to my kids, “I’m going to Afghanistan.” International Medical Corps sent me to set up 20 clinics in provinces where people had no health care. Eventually, the clinics were serving 27,000 patients a month. I had such a sense of accomplishment, a sense of purpose. My depression went completely away.

I go wherever disasters strike: Indonesia after the tsunami, Pakistan after the earthquake, Lebanon, Darfur, Iraq. I was just in Kenya. After their presidential election, at least a thousand people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. We set up mobile clinics in an area with 19,000 refugees. It was supposed to hold 13,000-max. Measles broke out, one of the biggest killers of kids in refugee camps, and it spread like wildfire. Water and sanitation were also issues.

When my wife passed away, I thought my life was done. But really, it was just getting started. At the end of her life, my wife fell into a coma. I held her head in my hands and told her of all the places we would visit, the exciting adventures we would have.

I think about this moment many times during my “adventures.”

I did not know then how prophetic those words would be. She is with me still.

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