Dermatologist travels to help HIV-positive children, returns with new perspective

February 3, 2010

Dr. Ondo, clinical assistant professor of dermatology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, traveled 30 hours each way on a two-week journey to Hyderabad, near India's southeastern coast. He described the experience as interesting, memorable, and at times overwhelming.

Key Points

Andrew Ondo, M.D.

Medical degree:
Medical College of Ohio, Toledo

Residency:
State University of New York
Buffalo, N.Y.

Hobbies:
Bicycling and mineralogy (studying the geology where he lives, with mountains on one side and the Rio Grande on the other).

Family:
Wife, Karen Price; two children, 6-year-old son, Isaac, and 3-year-old daughter, Ellie.

Ms. Pestak, a medical student, was planning a five-month trip to India to provide care for orphans and other patients at Sivananda Rehabilitation Home (SRH).

Dr. Ondo suggested the traditional treatments, including 5-fluorouracil cream.

"They did not, however, have access to 5-fluorouracil cream, and the other treatments weren't working, so Regina asked me if I would consider coming to India to help with the dermatology patients and bring some 5-fluorouracil," Dr. Ondo says. "I said OK."

Memorable moments

Dr. Ondo, clinical assistant professor of dermatology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, traveled 30 hours each way on a two-week journey to Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, a state near India's southeastern coast. He made the trip in April 2009, during the country's hot season, when temperatures soar to well above 100 degrees. The dermatologist described the experience as interesting, memorable, and at times overwhelming.

SRH is a haven for people who have severe medical needs and little or no means. It provides free, comprehensive care for people with leprosy, HIV and tuberculosis.

"Anyone who has a leprosy-associated condition, such as auto-amputated fingers, claw hand stricture, club foot or any of the facial stigmata, has a really difficult time living safely in the general population - leprosy is still a feared disease with a serious social stigma associated with it. One of the best things about the rehabilitation home is that anyone who has been treated for leprosy is allowed to remain and live on campus for life, if they so desire," Dr. Ondo says.

SRH has also become home to about 30 HIV-positive children who have lost their parents to the disease. Dr. Ondo volunteered to help with dermatological care for the children and nonleprosy patients.

"I was expecting to see rare tropical diseases - things equivalent to leprosy. It turns out that the vast majority of dermatology problems were similar to what we see in the U.S., just worse," he says. "I saw mostly common conditions such as dermatitis; common fungal infections, including ringworm and tinea versicolor; lichen simplex chronicus; and warts and molluscum."

Lessons learned

While he did not treat people with leprosy, Dr. Ondo learned a lot about the disease. That education may come in handy, he says.

"My partner and I had previously seen one newly diagnosed case of leprosy in a patient that has never left the U.S., and it appeared to be transmitted from close contact with armadillos," he says. "We have lots of armadillos in the Southwest. We may see other cases, and this experience will be helpful."

Dr. Ondo says he was taken with India's beauty, the graciousness of its people and the spirit of the children - despite their struggles with disease. He says he also came home with a newfound love for curry.

And the experience wasn't all work.

"Being on the campus and around the patients 24 hours a day, Regina and I would see the kids outside the clinic. We would play every night," he says. "That was half the fun of it - seeing people outside the medical setting."

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