Updated 03/16/2011 03:32 PM
Queens Doctor Changes Lives Of Torture Victims One ER Visit At A Time
Hundreds of thousands of people still fall victims to torture in countries around the globe every day. As NY1 takes a look at the stories of women making a difference for Women's History Month, Health reporter Kafi Drexel profiles an emergency room doctor in Queens who is dramatically changing the lives of immigrants who have been through the unimaginable.
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When Tamang, a Nepali refugee first showed up in the emergency room at Elmhurst Hospital in Jackson Heights, doctors quickly realized his problems ran much deeper than nausea and a heart condition. He'd been a victim of torture at the hands of the leading Communist party in Nepal.
“When I was in the camp, they started beating me,” he says through a translator. “I was bleeding from my back. They hit me mostly with the back of the gun.”
Tamang managed to escape to the United States, but had to leave his family behind.
Because of the work of Dr. Dinali Fernando, an emergency room physician and director of the Libertas Center at Elmhurst, more refugees like Tamang are being identified and receiving vital services they need for survival. The mission is also personal. The 36-year-old doctor's family fled political unrest in their native Sri Lanka.
“They were not harmed. Overall, they were very lucky,” says Fernando. “But it was a very traumatic experience for them nonetheless. And a lot of the people we see, unfortunately, have not been so lucky.”
Through the Libertas program, Fernando and her team train providers in the hospital to recognize the signs of refugees needing special services. They file affidavits assisting patients with asylum, provide specialized medical and mental health care, and connect them with legal and social services.
Doctors say between six and 12 percent of the patients coming through their ER doors have been victims of torture. That may sound like a small number. But in this day and age, it still translates to thousands of patients they see each year.
Dr. Stuart Kessler, director of the emergency department at Elmhurst, can't say enough about the importance of the work Fernando is doing.
“This is a great ability to find some of these patients that I don't think people were necessarily looking for in the past,” says Kessler. “To find people that have been tortured in other parts of the world, and to be able to capture them and give them the care they really need.”
“These people have helped me tremendously,” says Tamang. “My life had changed after I came to the emergency room. I would probably have committed suicide if I hadn't gotten help of this kind at the time that I needed it.”
Tamang now has asylum with the help of Libertas, and they are working to bring his family to the states.