Subject: Former Iowa doctor does it all in East Timor

The Capitol Times (Madison)

Former Iowa doctor does it all in East Timor

Samara Kalk Derby ­ 8/16/2007 10:47 am

Medical Aid Serenade: Friday, Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts, 306 W. Dayton St. Music by Hanah Jon Taylor and Salom Shalom. Doors open at 6 p.m. Suggested donation is $10.

Dr. Dan Murphy sees 300 patients a day, which works out to about one a minute.

No, he doesn't work for an American HMO.

The former Iowa country doctor, who is speaking and holding a fundraiser in Madison this week, has been practicing medicine in East Timor for nine years. He makes no money and takes periodic trips to the United States and Australia to raise money to keep his clinic going.

He admits that it takes a lot of practice to be able to treat so many patients each day and not turn anybody away.

"We don't have sophisticated lab and X-ray, so we are limited. And we don't have a lot of paperwork. I am able to go through a lot of patients, and I always try to be as nice as I can because they come from a long distance and then they only get one minute," he said Tuesday night during a stop in Madison.

Murphy will give a 20-minute talk followed by a question and answer session during the event "Medical Aid Serenade" Friday at the Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts, 306 W. Dayton St., south of the Overture Center. Murphy will also show a 10-minute video. Hanah Jon Taylor and Salom Shalom will perform Mediterranean music. Doors open at 6 p.m. The suggested donation is $10.

No specialists

Most people who come to his clinic -- the Bairo Pite Clinic in Dili, the capital of East Timor -- have what he calls an episodic illness, an upper respiratory infection or minor aches and pains.

"For those people, you just give a few little medicines that we have and tell them if you're not better, come back," said Murphy.

He is on the lookout for certain illnesses like tuberculosis, malaria or HIV, which he is able to treat with medicine.

East Timor is one of the world's poorest countries, it's tropical and has a high population density. People have poor housing, so contagious disease spreads readily, Murphy said.

"That means the viruses, the bacteria, the worms, the parasites and HIV. Those things spread. But we also have all the other illnesses, the cancers and diabetes and heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, all the things you know up here in the U.S., they can happen there, too."

It's a challenge for a doctor because he can't send anybody to a specialist since there aren't any. "You take care of all of it yourself," he said, adding that he also delivers about 100 babies a month and many of the women have complications.

Murphy is able to strike up good rapport with his patients because he speaks their language, Tetum. There are many other languages spoken in East Timor and Murphy says he has been there long enough that he can say a few words in all of them.

East Timor is a country of 1 million people located 400 miles northwest of Australia, at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. It was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century, then invaded and occupied by Indonesia in 1975. In 1999, it underwent a violent separation from Indonesia and the United Nations administered the country until its formal nationhood in 2002.

Murphy arrived in 1998, when the country was still under Indonesian rule.

"So I had the pleasure of going through the last part of the revolution, which was really a horror show, with Indonesia burning everything and killing many, many people. A lot of machete wounds and gunshot wounds and massacre victims. I was thrown right into that," he said.

At the time, the main book he used was a military surgeon's guide.

Before he went East Timor he was practicing medicine in Mozambique, another Portuguese colony. He took pity on the Timorese people after they were invaded by Indonesia.

"I always felt that those people didn't have a chance. For no good reason that I could think of, a foreign country came in and gobbled them up," Murphy said.

When Indonesian General Suharto dropped out of power in 1998, Murphy thought maybe East Timor finally had a chance.

"As a doctor you look for a way to have a bigger impact than just one-on-one with a sick patient. If you can help free an entire country, you have a good chance of improving people's health," he said.

Good support in Madison

Murphy said he has always had good support in Madison, where people are generous and have a special relationship with East Timor. Madison has a sister city in East Timor, the district Ainaro.

"I think people in Madison are more politically aware than in many places, they've heard of East Timor, and many people from Madison have been to East Timor."

Elliot Stokes was a founder in 1987 of the Madison-based group Medical Aid for East Timor, which is hosting the benefit Friday.

"At one time, many people would have said that the Timorese didn 't have a chance," Stokes said. "We were certainly told that often enough by people who knew what was going on there. And then with the help of people like Senator Russ Feingold and the latest generation of active people working for Timor, we were able to give them a chance to vote on a referendum and they voted to separate from Indonesia."

Stokes visited East Timor a year and a half ago and is going back in January.

"They have a chance of being an example for the rest of the world if they could just get on their feet. They have quite a long road that is seemingly insurmountable, but with other people's help they 've been able to get over a lot of mountains."

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