Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile: Teaching America's children about AIDS

June 4, 2001

A 77-year-old plastic surgeon, Martha Morgan MacGuffie created SHARE (Society for Hospital and Resources Exchange) to assist AIDS orphans in Africa. She enlists the assistance of American schoolchildren in her efforts, seeking to educate them about the dangers of AIDS as well.

 

Doctors Who Go The Extra Mile

Martha Morgan MacGuffie, MD
Teaching America's children about AIDS

When an American first-grader donates a quarter for AIDS orphans in Kenya, Martha Morgan MacGuffie savors a two-fold triumph. The New York plastic and reconstructive surgeon adds that quarter to the bounty she continually raises for African children. And—equally important—she's pleased that the young American donor has absorbed a possibly life-saving awareness of AIDS. Without such awareness, she believes, "What's happening in Africa today could happen here in another 10 years."

MacGuffie's personal war on AIDS evolved from family tragedy. Two of her three sons, diagnosed with Fanconi's anemia and treated with frequent blood transfusions, died of AIDS. Her third, distraught after his brothers' deaths, turned to drugs and ran away. He is presumed dead. Her husband also left, leaving MacGuffie with five daughters.

When her youngest daughter went to college, MacGuffie followed a childhood dream: Recalling her surgeon-father's stories about treating returning missionaries, she traveled to Africa. In western Kenya, she became determined to help "the most disadvantaged children in the world."

Joined by New York pediatric hematologist Renee M. Brilliant, who had cared for MacGuffie's sons, she formed the Society for Hospital and Resources Exchange. Since 1988, SHARE has built clinics, an orphanage, and library; provided medical equipment and drugs; educated Kenyans on disease prevention; and trained local residents to be paramedics.

Lately, SHARE has been buying bulls, plows, donkey carts, and donkeys. "The HIV-negative women are plowing the fields to raise food for the orphans," MacGuffie says.

SHARE also benefits from proceeds from a scar cream MacGuffie developed, which she now manufactures and sells. "That's $300 a month that goes to the bulls," she says. "At my late age [77], I've become an entrepreneur."

When she's in the states, MacGuffie visits American schoolchildren at least once a week. "We have a talk-and-slide presentation about AIDS in Africa," she says. "The kids cry and give me their pocket money. They feel good about helping; they get a humanitarian high."

MacGuffie estimates she spoke with about 18,000 American schoolchildren last year—some in private schools, but most in underprivileged areas. "I'll talk anywhere," she says, "and the help always comes."

MacGuffie particularly liked one school in the Bronx, NY. "The kids wrote a song about SHARE, and the school band played it. These children of all ethnic backgrounds—all working together and responding the same way—raised several hundred dollars."

What's more, MacGuffie says, "when I finish talking about Africa and telling the children how I lost my three sons, they really are AIDS-aware. They immediately make the connection to Africa.

"My biggest gripe is that the kids get the message, but their parents don't," says MacGuffie. "People say, 'Why don't you take care of the people here?' Well, we do."

The indefatigable MacGuffie continues to operate at Nyack (NY) Hospital. According to radiologist Shari Siegel-Goldman, who also works at the hospital, "She's a real role model: a woman who became a surgeon when it was difficult enough to become a physician; who's balanced her career with her large family; and who's made such a difference. At an age when most people have retired, she just keeps giving—to her community and to the world."

~Anne L. Finger
Senior Editor

 

Anne Finger. Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile: Teaching America's children about AIDS. Medical Economics 2001;11:77.