Jerry Brown, MD
To help the poor in Northern Iraq's no-fly zone, Tennessee radiologist and internist Jerry Brown, 55, has endured interrogation by border security forces, and had to employ his own armed guards to ride shotgun with him on officially discouraged night trips to a Kurdish clinic. He has dared to work in a land mine-filled country where "there's always someone being blown up."
Brown, a medical missionary, downplays the risk he's faced. Compared with countries such as Pakistan, where it is "unfathomable" for Christians to help Muslims, Iraq is "uptown and upscale," he says.
In Dihok, Brown helped establish a medical clinic at the infamous Nazarky prison, where he treats, among other conditions, old shrapnel wounds and people suffering from long-term problems caused by exposure to poison gas. "Smoke is everywhere as hundreds of refugees cook their meals in these windowless cells" at what was once the largest of Saddam Hussein's torture camps for political opponents.
The clinic at the prison was the first major project of Servant Group International, a Christian humanitarian aid group. With SGI's help, Brown has made four month-long trips to Iraq. He's brought CME audiocassettes and videotapes, medical textbooks, and 800 pounds of donated medicine to doctors in Dihok and Sulaymaniyah, where he's taught at the medical schools there.
Conditions in Iraq are spartan as well as dangerous: no gas or electricity, leaking boats sputtering across the water close to where Saddam Hussein's troops lurk, outdated medical equipment, frigid weather conditions, and only one ultrasound machine for a hospital with hundreds of patients. Care is necessarily quick; appendectomies are often done in 13 minutes.
Iraq isn't the only place Brown has served. When he witnessed starving children living in garbage dumps near Mexico City, he knew he had to help. "The kids would be bitten on their extremities and ears and noses at night by rats," he recalls. Brown also treated farmers who lived on the sides of mountains; it was a two-day walk to the nearest hospital, an unaffordable luxury in any case. "If you're too sick to get off the mountainwell, you just stay there and die."
Since 1995, Brown has taken seven trips to Mexico. At one clinic, Brown, two nurses, and a physician assistant met with 400 patients in a week and treated everything from pig and rat bites to unusual neurological disorders.
"He could be having a nice safe life, but he's determined to help," says his colleague Lucy Dirr, a neurologist. "I have such admiration for him."
Brown and his wife, Angie, a registered nurse who joined him on his most recent trip to Iraq, plan to enter "semiretirement" next year. Ideally, he'd like to spend fall and spring teaching medical students in Iraq, and work at Maury Regional Hospital in Columbia, TN, as a staff radiologist, between trips.
His work overseas "has been an adventure, but it hasn't been anything that the people who live there don't deal with every day," says Brown. "So I don't take any special credit. It's what the rest of the world has to live with."
Marina Koestler. Doctors who go The Extra Mile: Bodyguards, land mines, and medicine.
Dec. 9, 2002;79:91.