Local medical professionals volunteer in Turkey, Pakistan

November 19, 2011 5:03:12 PM PST
A dozen Houstonians are getting ready to go into disaster areas overseas to help earthquake and flood victims deal with crippling destruction.

Turkey's Van province was rattled by two earthquakes over the last three weeks, and a local team wanted to help the victims. They had already planned a medical mission to Pakistan. Thanks to the generosity of Houston's medical community, they're extending their trip to Turkey as well.

Dr. Joseph Agris is packing his bags for his eighth trip into a disaster zone. Only this time, he'll hit not one, but two.

"We don't turn anybody away," he said.

Agris will lead a team of medical professionals. First, they will go to flood-ravaged Pakistan, then to Turkey, where two tremors over the last three weeks have killed more than 640 people. Dozens of buildings there have collapsed, including homes and hotels. Rescuers are still digging people out from underneath the rubble.

"We're going to see some crush injuries, skin loss like burns, reparable or not, depending on what we see," Agris said.

He'll operate from 7am until midnight, sometimes at hospitals and otherwise in makeshift tent clinics.

But operating on victims is only one part of what he does.

"The other part is that we teach the local doctors how to do these operations," he said.

Like in Turkey, villagers in Pakistan's Sindh province are paralyzed by disease following the region's crippling floods two years in a row. A fifth of the country -- 21 million people -- are affected and left under water.

"In disasters -- flood or earthquake -- everything is gone and they are building from scratch," said Hashmat Effendi with House of Charity.

House of Charity organized this medical mission trip, gathering donations of everything from surgical supplies to antibiotics from local hospitals like Methodist and Memorial Hermann.

"Everything we need, we better bring it. Otherwise, we can't do the surgery," Effendi said.

And when the doctors return, more supplies will be shipped so doctors there can continue the work that Houston's surgeons -- like Agris -- started.

"That's good PR. Not for me, but for America," Agris said.

The team of 12 plans to be gone three or four weeks, depending on the need, and how long their supplies last. Typically, they see thousands of patients and operate on about 500. Some of the children who are too sick to be treated in their countries will come back to Houston with the doctors to receive treatment here.

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