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Posted April 11, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Healthcare

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DAN DE CARBONEL | Statesman Journal

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Dr. Gary Nishioka (right) stands with his son Ryder (left) and wife, Linda, in Havana.

A Salem plastic surgeon is gathering materials for doctors there to use.

Dr. Gary Nishioka returned from his recent trip to Cuba with a shopping list.

In coming months, the Salem plastic surgeon will round up drills, bone saws, chin implants, laptop computers, sutures and other items to enable Cuban doctors to treat patients with up-to-date equipment.

“The hospital conditions are pretty deplorable,” Nishioka said this week after returning from last month’s trip. “The doctors are pretty well-trained, but they have nothing to work with. It’s like operating with knives and spoons.”

Nishioka made the trip with about a dozen doctors and other medical professionals with the help of Resources Education International, a humanitarian organization.

Although Nishioka has made trips with the group to Vietnam, this was the first trip he took with his wife, Linda, and 15-year-old son, Ryder.

Nishioka met with doctors throughout Havana. Ryder visited local schools and took part in community projects that helped him meet a requirement at Blanchet Catholic High School. Linda discussed fluoridation programs with dentists.

The weeklong trip included visits to three hospitals in which Nishioka demonstrated facial-reconstruction procedures. He also provided guidance about how best to improve medical conditions for Cuba’s estimated 23,000 doctors.

“The goal of the mission was to help Cuba build up their medical infrastructure,” he said, “so they won’t need our assistance anymore.”

Nishioka, who practices at Willamette Ear, Nose, Throat and Facial Plastic Surgery, will ask medical-equipment companies to donate items on his shopping list. He said that many suppliers have used equipment that they do not intend to sell. Nishioka might purchase some items himself.

The Nishiokas returned with a new view of the communist outpost. The United States has maintained an economic embargo against Cuba since Fidel Castro rose to power in 1959. Nishioka said that he noticed differences in how younger and older generations regard their country’s future.

“The younger people are eager to move forward and normalize relations with the U.S.,” he said. “Those in Cuba before the revolution would like to change, but they know if things change too quickly, it could be bad.”

The demise of the Soviet Union and its economic support has left the island nation in a precarious position. Most observers think that U.S.-Cuba relations won’t change until Castro passes from power.

The trip to Cuba was one of few sanctioned by the United States each year. The Nishiokas had to obtain a special federal license. The amount of money they brought, and what they returned with, was restricted.

“The Cuban government knows these missions help their doctors, but they also worry about subversive activities,” he said. “They realize the benefits of these missions and know they are able to get materials they couldn’t get anywhere else.”

Dan de Carbonel can be reached at (503) 399-6714.

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