On a visit to see family in Pakistan last November, Dr. Irfan Ali of Augusta volunteered his services at tiny Aisha Bibi Memorial Hospital.
He ended up seeing 2,000 patients at the hospital, which is in a poor, rural area outside Karachi, over four 12-hour days. He gave many of them a month or more of medication and other supplies, which he bought with donations from people in Maine and colleagues elsewhere.
Ali, 36, a hospitalist at MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer unit in Waterville, will receive the 2011 NASF Humanitarian of the Year award from the Chelsea-based Nasreen & Alam Sher Foundation “for his altruistic humanitarian efforts for the people of South Asia.”
The award will be presented at a dinner Saturday at the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta.
The foundation supports a series of eye clinics and eye surgeries in Pakistan as well as offering other medical services when possible, like those provided by Ali.
“It was amazing,” Alam Sher said. “The hospital had 2,100 people turn up, and they all wanted to be treated by the American doctor. He (Ali) saw almost all of them.”
Ali, his wife, and their children had planned to spend a month in Pakistan, and Ali spent two weekends providing free medical services.
One woman arrived carrying her 7-year-old who had 15 broken bones. Her 12-year-old was at home with 21 fractures. The problem was osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bones.
“Those kids were so good and beautiful,” Ali said.
He emailed a large private hospital in Pakistan, was put in contact with an endocrinologist and was able to secure donations to provide injections of bisphosphonates, which can help to strengthen bones.
The treatment appears to be working, he said. Over the past six months, one child had no fractures and the other suffered only one fracture.
“That really makes me so glad and so happy,” Ali said. He said over the four or five days he spent at the hospital, “Even if you can make a difference in only one person’s life, that is more than enough for me to be satisfied.”
He treated children and adults suffering from malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, lung and ear problems and women with intrauterine problems.
“It’s very remote and has a lot of hepatitis B and C,” he said.
“So many people are there who have never been to doctors. There’s a lot of tuberculosis and a lot of patients have a story that is very sad.”
Ali was born in Quetta, Pakistan, and went to medical school in Lahore. He speaks two of the languages used by people he treated, and local health workers helped translate for those who spoke two other languages.
“I loved it, and I’m already looking forward to going again,” Ali said. “There was so much satisfaction you can’t get otherwise.”
Sher said the nonprofit foundation operates on a $5,000 to $10,000 annual budget, and all foundation directors are volunteers and there are no administrative costs. The goals of the foundation are “for health, education, humanities, and peace in South Asia and beyond.”
Ali has worked at the Thayer campus three years since May 2009 and before that finished his training through the Maine Dartmouth Family Practice Residency.
He, his wife and their three children and his mother live in Augusta. They will soon move to Boston where Ali, who is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine, is about to begin a second residency — this time in anesthesiology — at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston under the direction of Harvard Medical School.
Betty Adams — 621-5631