Doctors Bring Hope and Healing to the Underserved

In 2011, McLaughlin, Newsletter, Sofis, Volume 3 Issue 2 by Addison Clark

At Radiologic Associates of Fredericksburg (RAF), social responsibility is a core value. In 2010, the physician partners in RAF provided over $1.7 million of charity care to patients in the greater Fredericksburg area. RAF along with other local healthcare providers also are reaching out worldwide. Two RAF physicians, John J. McLaughlin, MD, and George T. Sofis, MD, have journeyed to different parts of the world to provide consult to global colleagues and free medical care to those in need.

For the past four years, Dr. McLaughlin has traveled to Asia to train other physicians in inter- ventional radiology. Interventional radiologists perform minimally invasive procedures to diag- nose and treat a variety of medical conditions. Dr. McLaughlin’s two-week trips are taken solo, using vacation time, and he pays for all expenses. “I fill a suitcase with basic equipment, such as stents and catheters,” he notes. “It can be tricky going through customs with medical supplies, especially in a communist country, but so far, no mishaps.”

Dr. McLaughlin (right) in a sweltering operating room in Vietnam.

While he was a college student, Dr. McLaughlin was introduced to community health in developing nations. “My father served on the board of a non- profit organization, Los Niños, based in Tijuana, Mexico,” he explains. “One summer, at his sugges- tion, I worked at a clinic in Tijuana. That ignited my interest in medicine—and also in working with the underserved.”

To date, Dr. McLaughlin has made four trips, two to Vietnam and one each to India and Sri Lanka. Most of his global connections and trip arrangements are made over the Internet. For example, he met his Indian colleagues by emailing the chairman of the Indian Society of Vascular and Interventional Radiology. He looks also for doctors who are working with the poor and indigent in government hospitals, typically understaffed, where perhaps the greatest contribution can be made.

One day, he hopes to engage his global connec- tions on a larger scale by opening up an interven- tional radiology center in a developing country.

While Dr. McLaughlin has focused his efforts in Asia, South America has been the stage for Dr. Sofis’ charity work. Every two years, he volunteers his expertise as a diagnostic radiologist with the Wilderness Community Church in Spotsylvania, using his vacation time for the trips and paying  his own expenses. The church sponsors a mission in Ayacucho, Peru, a village 14,000 feet high in the Andes Mountains, where medical care is in short supply.

Dr. Sofis is part of a 20-member medical team that includes several emergency room physicians from Mary Washington Hospital. The team also has provided services in the Peruvian Amazon, based in the town of Pucallpa. In a 2010 trip, Dr. Sofis used a portable ultrasound and served as a “one-man radiology department.” Villagers complaining of everything from back pain to kidney stones were diagnosed on the spot and given treatment.

Word of the team’s presence traveled quickly. “We could see as many as 200 people a day,” he notes. “Parasites are a huge issue. We do whatever we can to alleviate discomfort.”

Along with his trips to Peru, Dr. Sofis has traveled also to South Africa. Recently, he visited Cape Town’s Tygerberg Hospital, the country’s largest teaching hospital, where he exchanged best practices with international colleagues. In October, he’s planning a trip to Haiti.

Sometimes, consultations are life-saving. “Our first day in Pucallpa, a young man was brought to us on a stretcher,” Dr. Sofis remembers. “Using the portable ultrasound, I could confirm that he  had a ruptured appendix. He was transported to the nearest hospital. Had we not been there to evaluate his condition, he would likely have died of sepsis.”

“It’s why we became doctors,” he concludes. “We want to help people. This is medicine at its best.”


Pictured above is Dr. Sofis (left) performs a diagnostic ultrasound test on a patient in Peru.