Surgeon kept busy on visit to Kuwait

June 08, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

When Dr. James Vogel arrived in Kuwait on a Friday evening after a 13-hour trip, he planned to spend Saturday and Sunday recovering from jet lag.

But Dr. Vogel, a plastic surgeon who traveled to the Mideast this spring at the invitation of the Kuwaiti government to perform reconstructive and cosmetic surgery there, didn't know that Saturday is the beginning of the work week in Kuwait.

"The next day at 8 a.m. I had 20 consultations lined up," said Dr. Vogel, 38, who practices in Westminster and Pikesville.

The pace didn't let up during his stay, from March 18 to April 18.

"Once the word was out that an American plastic surgeon was there, people came out in large numbers," said Dr. Vogel.

He was one of 20 doctors invited to the country by the Kuwaiti government and the Al-Salam hospital in Kuwait City to provide medical services to Kuwaitis. All medical care in the country is provided free.

Urologists, internists and ophthalmologists were among the doctors who made the trip, many of them from Egypt and Lebanon. Dr. Vogel was the only plastic surgeon and the only American doctor in the group.

The Kuwait government and the Al-Salam hospital paid for the trip.

Dr. Vogel said he received an invitation to Kuwait because the Kuwaitis respect American medicine and wanted to learn about the latest advances in plastic surgery. He also said he had previously established friendships with some Kuwaitis. He said some of the other doctors on the trip plan to stay on at the Al-Salam to ease a shortage at the hospital resulting from the Persian Gulf war.

"After the war, there were only three plastic surgeons in all of Kuwait for 1.5 million people," Dr. Vogel said.

During his stay in the country, he saw 150 patients and performed 46 operations. Half were reconstructive procedures and half were for cosmetic purposes.

He said more people sought his help than he could treat during his visit.

Dr. Vogel said some of the most requested surgeries were liposuction, face lifts, eyelid surgery and operations to correct congenital deformities and trauma injuries resulting from accidents or war injuries.

He said he saw fewer war victims than he expected. Most of the war-related injuries were facial scars, burns and crush injuries.

Providing medical services in an Islamic country required Dr. Vogel to work around some of his patients' religious customs.

For example, women wore veils to cover the face and hair. Sometimes, Dr. Vogel said, he didn't see the faces of his female TTC patients until they were under anesthesia on the operating table.

He noticed that many of the women who came to see him had what appeared to be black burn marks on the palms of their hands. In fact, the women had dyed their hands with henna for cosmetic reasons, he said.

Many Kuwaitis, Dr. Vogel learned, didn't understand that all surgeries leave some scarring. After discovering this fact, some of his patients decided not to go under the knife.

"They thought I could do magical surgery without scars," he said.

One 30-year-old woman who did think her surgery was magical had been living all her life with a cleft palate, a lip deformity and a flat nose that was slumped on one side.

Although earlier medical procedures had partially corrected the problem, some surgery was still needed.

"When she took a look at her nose after the surgery, she was so happy she started to cry," Dr. Vogel said.

For the first 10 days of his visit to Kuwait, he stayed with a local family. Then he moved into residential quarters of the Al-Salam hospital, where his room overlooked the Persian Gulf.

Dr. Vogel said the hospital was very modern and sanitary with high-quality equipment.

During his visit, he was a guest of Kuwait's royal family and also went to the vacation homes of some of the Kuwaitis.

He said about "85 percent" of the war damage from the Iraqi invasion in 1990 has been rebuilt. Dr. Vogel said Mercedes-Benz cars were common sights on the streets of Kuwait, as were palatial residences of wealthy Kuwaitis.

Kuwait is virtually crime-free, Dr. Vogel said, but the U.S. State Department told him to avoid the deserts because 70,000 land mines remain buried in the sands.

"There was no gathering I went to where the [Persian Gulf] war didn't come up as a topic," he said. "Almost every Kuwaiti knows of someone or has a relative who was killed, captured or tortured by Iraqis.

"It's really a very peaceful country that was brutally invaded."

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