Subject: Doctor won't give up on East Timor

Also Progressive Radio Show: Dr. Dan Murphy Interview

Updated September 08. 2007 7:20PM

The (Cedar Rapids, IA) Gazette

Doctor won't give up on East Timor

Iowa native finds life, challenges in suffering nation

By Cindy Hadish The Gazette

Video/Audio: Dr. Dan Murphy talks about his East Timor clinic

His patients battle poverty, as well as malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases seldom seen in his native Iowa, but Dr. Dan Murphy believes times should be improving for his clinic in East Timor.

Considering what Murphy experienced in 1999, that outlook appears on target.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony on an island between Indonesia and Australia, was overtaken by Indonesia in 1975. In 1999, in the midst of militia violence during which entire towns were burned, Murphy was deported. Colleagues said the government perceived Murphy as too outspoken on human rights issues, which resulted in his banishment.

Drawn by the residents' great need and despite the risks, Murphy, a 1970 medical school graduate of the University of Iowa and a former Cedar Falls doctor, returned and built a new clinic.

"As a doctor, you have an obligation to use your skills for the benefit of mankind," Murphy said in an interview.

At risk of death in some cases, East Timor residents voted for independence, which was granted in 2002.

Even with independence, the new country faces great poverty and other issues, said Murphy, a native of Alton in northwest Iowa who returned to the United States last month for a family reunion. During his time in Iowa and elsewhere, Murphy tried to raise both awareness and money to operate his clinic.

In the city of Dili, his Bairo Pite clinic -- the name means "neighborhood of pigs" -- is one of few places residents can go for health care in the country of 1 million people.

Murphy keeps what doctors here would consider a frenetic pace, seeing about 300 patients daily.

"I can't do so many things -- I don't have an X-ray machine. The laboratory is very simple," he said, noting sometimes he feels helpless. "I know exactly what they need, and the technology is there, but how do you get the person to the right place to get it done."

Instead of complicated procedures, Murphy focuses his time on diagnosing common illnesses for which the clinic has medicine. Malaria takes the lives of many children under 5 who haven't developed resistance. Refugees living in tents and others in close quarters readily spread tuberculosis. Murphy said HIV and AIDS are growing issues.

About 100 babies delivered in the clinic every month face a better outlook than those born elsewhere.

Many women who give birth at home die from complications, and newborns face sanitation problems. Murphy treated a baby last month who contracted tetanus after its umbilical cord was tied with a dirty cloth at home.

For more complex problems, Murphy looks to hospitals in Australia or elsewhere that might take a patient in need of heart surgery, for example.

Getting care in the United States has become a challenge. Doctors here are willing to help, but visa restrictions became more complicated after 9/11, he said.

Dili, a city of 150,000 residents, is slightly larger than Cedar Rapids.

"I only wish they had the resources Cedar Rapids does," Murphy said.

The clinic, with a staff of 48, including a few volunteer doctors, operates on about $10,000 per month. Nurses make a monthly salary of $140.

Staffers also go to remote mountain areas to reach people who cannot make it to the clinic.

Murphy's message has been well-received during his time in the United States, said his sister, Maureen Murphy of Cedar Falls.

The two grew up in a family of seven children. Their father was a small-town physician, which she believes influenced her brother's career choice.

At age 62, Murphy has no plans for retirement.

"I get to be a doctor," he said, noting he doesn't have to contend with insurance companies or paperwork. "I feel like I have to keep helping."


Worth A Look

TO HELP: Tax-deductible donations for the Bairo Pite clinic, payable to San Carlos Foundation, may be sent in care of Dr. Dan Murphy's sister, Maureen Murphy, at 2603 Iowa St., Cedar Falls, IA 50613. She can be reached at (319) 277-7130. Murphy said Americans also can help by sponsoring an East Timor exchange student; by finding hospital placement for a patient in need of medical care; or by volunteering.

ON THE NET: More information on the clinic:  

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