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Monday January 30, 2012

How a Majorcan nun changed a doctor’s life

After the working day many of us might contemplate, with some relief, a few hours free time in the evening but for one Spanish doctor in Majorca, that’s when his other working life begins.

Back in 2010, Dr Jorge Muños, head paediatrician at Palmaplanas USP hospital in Palma, was visited by Sister Magdalena Ribas, a Majorcan nun and nurse, who had spent 34 years working with the poor in Chad. She had heard about him through the medical grapevine and was sure that he was the one to help her save St Joseph’s hospital in Bebedjia, in southern Chad. Jorge Muños, a father of four young children, who runs a hugely busy paediatrics department, initially questioned the wisdom of offering his limited time and resources to a far flung hospital on the verge of closure.

For it transpired that St Joseph’s which Sister Magdalena had directed voluntarily since 2007, was totally reliant on donations, mostly from Spanish institutions. With the precarious state of Spain’s economy, support had all but dried up and the hospital was in dire straits. Jorge Muños soon found himself –at his own cost and in his free time-flying via France to Chad where he was met by two nuns who drove him 600 kilometres across hostile terrain to the hospital in Bebedjia. From that first visit, where 45 sick children were admitted for emergency treatment every day, he worked tirelessly during his two week stint there. “One child died every day at the hospital and that was hard to bear,’’ Jorge told me. “They have just two doctors treating more than 120 patients and serve a population of 400,000. It’s an uphill struggle.”

In the rainy season so many children are admitted with illnesses that include malaria, malnutrition, anaemia and tuberculosis that two children have to be accommodated per hospital bed. During his holidays Dr Muños juggles his voluntary pursuits in Chad with family life, admitting that it’s hard work. Even between visits to St Joseph’s hospital, Jorge spends all his free hours frantically raising funds to keep the hospital going.

Through his organising of sporting events in Majorca and Spain on behalf of the hospital Jorge Muños has garnered the support of Spanish golf players and the likes of Majorcan tennis players Carlos Moyá and Rafael Nadal. “Having that level of support gives me the heart and energy to fight on,” he says. “When I consider the dedication and selfless commitment of Sister Magdalena who has devoted her life to caring for the sick of Chad, it is, surely, the very least I can do?”

First appeared in Telegraph Expat. Follow Anna on Twitter @MajorcanPearls

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