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March 2006 Issue

Ferhan Asghar, MD, (second from left) visits with U.S. soldiers at a military relief base in Pakistan.
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Physician Offers Helping Hand in Wake of Earthquake Disaster

Published March 2006

Harsh winter winds whipping through tents where families live next to piles of debris that were once houses.

People in need of medical care reluctant to come down the mountains to receive it, for fear they would lose possession of their undeeded land.

That's what Ferhan Asghar, MD, saw recently when he went to Pakistan to provide medical care to victims of a devastating earthquake.

Northern Pakistan was rocked by a 7.6 Richter-scale earthquake last October that killed more than 80,000 people. The magnitude of the earthquake collapsed mountains, altered the course of waterways, wiped out entire villages and left 3.5 million people homeless.

Five months later, thousands of families are still living in tents like the ones Dr. Asghar saw when he was in Pakistan for more than two weeks in November and December.

"Because roads were inaccessible, it was a logistical nightmare for relief organizations to get food, supplies, equipment and medical care to people who needed it," says Dr. Asghar, an assistant professor in the department of orthopaedic surgery.

"Unfortunately, many people who needed medical attention wouldn't seek it because they didn't want to leave their homes."

A spine specialist, Dr. Asghar spent his adolescence in Pakistan and still has friends and relatives who live in the country. Knowing the need for medical care would be great, he decided to return to Pakistan and offer his expertise.

"I can speak the language and could communicate with patients. I treated patients with complex spinal injuries as well as those with extremity fractures," he says.

What struck Dr. Asghar most during his time in Pakistan was the general attitude of the patients.

"In this country we tend to do as much as we can to get back to our former degree of function, and sometimes we go overboard," he says. "Pakistanis represent the other extreme.

"They accept injury as part of their fate," he says. "They figure that God will help them get better, and if it doesn't happen, they just deal with it. They're happy with whatever improvement they receive as a result of treatment."

"Pakistanis accept the way things are because they don't have the means to expect more, Dr. Asghar says.

"Developing countries are in great need of well-trained physicians and surgeons on a regular basis--not just during times of disaster," he says. "We can increase the level of care Pakistani people receive by sharing our expertise and teaching their physicians."

Dr. Asghar, a member of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America, plans to return to Pakistan in a year or so to once again offer his medical expertise. He is currently working with organizations and businesses to donate medical supplies and equipment to the area.

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