BANGOR, Maine — Bangor native Dr. Scott Cohen is pictured on the Global Pediatric Alliance Web site using a chicken as a casualty victim to demonstrate to a Guatemalan woman how to suture a machete wound.
Cohen, a pediatrician, was born and raised in Bangor. He said growing up in Maine did not prepare him for the hardships he would see later in life while working in Third World countries.
“Every single day 5,000 to 7,000 infants and children die [worldwide] of dehydration,” he said last week while visiting and having lunch with his family at Bagel Central in downtown. “Every single day.”
He was shocked by the lack of basic needs, such as clean water, that indigenous people live without and knew teaching those people basic medical care skills would go a long way to bettering their lives.
He started Global Pediatric Alliance in 2002 to try to help.
For all of his work with GPA, the American Academy of Pediatrics has named Cohen a “Pediatric Hero.”
“Last fall the AAP launched a campaign to find stories of the everyday pediatric heroes among us,” the group’s Web site states. “After receiving hundreds of entries and much deliberation, four individuals were selected” for the first heroes award.
As part of the honor, Cohen will be sent to the AAP 2009 National Conference & Exhibition, Oct. 17-20, in Washington, D.C. His wife, Andrea, and 1-year-old son, Lucas, also will attend, he said.
“It’s not because of me, it’s because of the work of the Global Pediatric Alliance,” Cohen said of the award.
The GPA empowers lay health workers in countries such as Guatemala, Mexico and Ecuador by educating them about how to treat common injures and assist with childbirth.
“In these regions, most women, at least 85 percent, deliver babies in their huts in remote regions,” Cohen said. “If we spend $100 training a midwife, she’ll return [to her village] and train another generation. That’s my hope.”
The infant mortality rates in many Third World countries is high; 10 times what it is in the United States, and it’s “all due to preventable diseases and preventable problems,” he said.
That’s why his international group also provides rain catch basins to provide clean drinking water, and has installed a number of dry ecological toilets for basic sanitation.
“These are very basic things we take for granted,” Cohen said.
Cohen attended Garland Street Junior High School, now the William S. Cohen School, and was part of the Bangor High School Class of 1980. He left Maine to attend the University of Vermont and then Tufts University to earn his medical degree.
After graduating from Tufts, in 1988, he went on a three-month Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in West Africa, and saw firsthand how a lack of medical resources, which are readily available in the United States, can mean a death sentence.
He watched helplessly as children died and it changed him, his parents, Honey and Lester Cohen of Bangor, said during the lunch.
“He said to me, ‘I didn’t go to school for all those years to go home and count my money. I became a physician to help people,’” Lester Cohen recalled.
Honey Cohen said her son has a passion for helping those less fortunate than himself.
“It’s in his DNA,” she said.
Andrea Cohen added, “Scott has a strong sense of service and an incredible heart. He’s an incredibly selfless person and really dedicated to helping others.”
After returning home from Africa, Cohen finished medical school, started his residency at the Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Calif., and spent time traveling to several Latin American countries to offer his medical services.
After returning from a three-month stay in the Mayan jungle of Guatemala in 2002, where he served as a volunteer doctor and educator, he came up with the idea for Global Pediatric Alliance.
The GPA has traveled to Central and South America dozens of times since 2002 and held educational workshops in hundreds of villages and communities. These educational workshops have taught more than 160 health care promoters and 200 midwives techniques for identifying basic problems, purifying water, rehydrating people, and childbirth skills, including how to stop a hemorrhage after giving birth.
In addition, the GPA has built 12 dry composting toilets and 20 rainwater catchment systems and has supported 11 community-driven health and sanitation projects, Cohen said.
The Global Pediatric Alliance, which has an annual budget of less than $150,000, has improved the lives of many, said Cohen, who now serves as the group’s medical director.
“For a small amount of money, we can do a heck of a lot of good,” he said.
For information about the Global Pediatric Alliance, go to www.globalpediatricalliance.org.