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Long IslandLI Life

LI doctors, nurses to offer medical care in Nicaragua

More than 2,200 pounds of equipment have been shipped and another 3,200 pounds were being put in the luggage of 64 Long Island professionals who planned to fly to Nicaragua this weekend to give free medical care to many of that country's poor.

Physicians, nurses, gynecologists, plastic surgeons and other specialists will set up a clinic at Gaspar de Silvio Hospital in Rivas, a city of some 40,000 people.

The hospital has screened 400 children and adults to receive treatment for cleft lip and cleft palate, burns, fused fingers, hernia, gastrointestinal conditions and other problems.

"We get there Saturday night, and we'll be operating by 2 o'clock Sunday," said Galo Burbano of Manorville, chief nurse anesthetist at Long Island Anesthesia in Rocky Point, who is leading the group.

It includes about 20 doctors from St. Charles Hospital and John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, both in Port Jefferson; Stony Brook University Hospital; Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue; and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. They will be joined by six doctors from off the Island, and other medical staff.

All are volunteers offering their services through Blanca's House, an organization named for his mother that Burbano, 46, founded in 2007 to serve sick people in developing countries who can't afford medical care.

Initially intended to give back to Ecuador, Burbano's homeland, Blanca's House grew out of trips to Guayaquil and other cities in Ecuador that Burbano and other Long Island medical volunteers made from 2006 to 2008 with Healing the Children, an international, medical volunteer organization.

On three visits to one of the cities, Babahoyo, Blanca's House staffed a seven-story clinic donated by Babahoyo native Dr. Rafael Hernandez, a physician at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream.

Participants are motivated by their patients' "endless expressions of gratitude and warm and loving appreciation," according to Sheila Casamassima of Port Jefferson Station, a surgical coordinator for Suffolk Plastic Surgeons.

Dr. Stephen Coccaro, chief of plastic surgery at St. Charles, has "wanted to do something for people less fortunate" since medical school. "Besides working with a great team, there's nothing like having a kid that couldn't feed because of a cleft lip, and after an hour's operation he can eat," said Coccaro, a co-founder of Blanca's House.

The contingent bound for Nicaragua for a week is the organization's biggest so far. About 50 volunteers make the Ecuador trips. Each pays $1,200 for the week- to 10-day stays. Working 12- to 14-hour days, they serve about 300 people each time.

"Everybody helps. Everybody's amazing," Burbano said.

Blanca's House relies on donations of supplies from hospitals, drug companies, corporations and individuals. "Everything you could use in a hospital, we get," Burbano said. Donated toys and clothing make up care packages for schools.

Fundraisers and gifts help to buy medications and cover the $1,500 monthly administration cost. The group can be reached at P.O. Box 363, Hicksville, N.Y. 11802-0362.

At the heart of the operation is Burbano, who was born in Guayaquil and came to the United States with his parents when he was 8.

He said he didn't understand the concept of giving when his mother would "feed 16 people at dinner, give them jobs and help them with immigration papers. I was often butting heads with her."

Were his mother alive, "I think she'd be tickled pink," Burbano said, "because I'm doing all the things I told her not to do."

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