Albanian American Medical Society reviewback
Albanian American Medical Society
In July 2008 a group of physicians of Albanian descent met in Boston at the invitation of Dr. Lindita Çoku for the intended purpose of establishing a new professional organization. This was a major step undertaken after there were multiple prior discussions among those providers who had already been integrated into the US system and consequently in the position of helping significantly to organize the ethnic Albanian physicians in their adopted country. Issues of addressing the need to network intellectually in their mother tongue included the sharing of new experiences with colleagues in their homeland and assisting the new wave of Albanian immigrant patients arriving from Albanian territories of the Balkan peninsula after the 1990s. The pride to be recognized in the US medical and educational institutions were the reasons to come together for generating an organized model. This was the first time ever for healthcare professionals of Albanian descent to sit at a round table, to present their ideas and suggestions for building a legally recognized structure acceptable to US standards. The name and format of the organization were voted democratically by the attendees, and in September 2008 the Albanian American Medical Society was finally recognized as a non-for-profit medical professional organization within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. From an historical perspective, few of the first Albanian immigrants to Boston around 100 years ago experienced good fortune. At first, many of them had a difficult life living in old buildings and basements in order to afford the rent. Working different shifts, they habitually wore each other’s coats and slept in each other's beds. In order to save money for their families back home, these young men spent very little on themselves. The heavy work in factories, the difficult housing conditions and insufficient nourishment affected the health of the immigrant men and boys. Some also lost their lives in tragic circumstances. The disease of tuberculosis started to affect some of the immigrants who lived in basements in Boston area and subsequently spread, a concern that Faik Konica brought to the attention of the city municipality. He pressed the Governor to move Albanians out of basements and to give them housing; when necessary, he would bring their cases to the attention of the press. He himself visited their basements to speak to the sick, sent them to be seen by a doctor expeditiously, and in some cases advised them to return to their home country to recover and rest. Years later, Albanian immigrants brought their families over as well, along with their traditions and customs. In conversations with elderly Albanian-Americans it was learned that emigrant women brought with them roots and seeds of medical plants, such as salep, mountain tea, salvia, chamomile, red and white oregano etc. They cultivated these plants in vases and gardens, and used them as alternative medication according to their customs. Also, there was raki, the alcoholic liquor made of grape produced in their homes, used not only for festive events, but also as “medication” against cold or flu, by rubbing some onto the chest and preparing it as a potent drink. Equally worth mentioning is the mother of the Albanian patriot Anton Athanasi, who brought yogurt cultures from Albania, and took care of them during the two-week journey on a ship. In the Albanian-American community, there were a number of well-known women who practiced alternative medicine, and who attended to Albanians suffering from rheumatism, lower back pain, fractures, intestinal disease, respiratory problems, etc. They used “rubbing”, “massages”, and “combination of different teas with medical plants”. For skin infections they used egg yolk on a clean metallic plate.(Among them were clairvoyants who helped with “magic”, including Kolevica, the wondrous Albanian lady from Lynn, Massachusetts, who used her magic with cobbles of coal.) Mrs Gloria Hill, the elderly Albanian-American, born in South Boston to Albanian parents, remembers healing with “cups” for those suffering from pneumonia. Experienced women used glass cups with a small candle inside, which they placed one by one on the back of the sick. She also remembers the traditional method of “massaging” for back pain. Similar methods of traditional alternative medicine were used by the Arberesh of Massachusetts as well as other Albanian immigrants. One of the first doctors of the first generation of immigrants was a renowned doctor from Dardha, Vangjo Llaci, who had been studying and working as a doctor in New York since the beginning of the past century. It is said that Dr. Llaci was often called for medical consultations to the White House. Other respected doctors forementioned were Dr. Andrew Elia and his wife Dr. Dimetra Tsina-Elia. Both of them were in medical practice in Boston. Dr Andrew Elia was the chairman of the “Vatra” Association as well as a renowned publicist. The Elias were known as honorable activists of the Albanian-American community. Another respected and reputable doctor who practiced in Boston and surroundings was Dr. Nicholas Prift. He was a general practitioner who was often called upon by Albanian parents to visit their sick children. They had complete trust in him due to his professional skills as well as his care and dedication. Dr Gaqi Qano practiced stomatology in Philadelphia. A few years later he returned to Albania where he continued to practice until the end of his life. He is remembered for his strong support for the formation of a body of stomatologists. Another well-known name in the Albanian-American community in Worcester was the Albanian activist Dr. John Nasse, originally from Berat. During some of his travels to Albania, Dr. Nasse offered his support and contribution to the medical system of his home country. In the Arberesh community of Milford, near Boston, Dr. Nikolla Capece, another local medical practitioner, is mentioned with honor and respect. Dr. Capece was a renowned scholar and activist. He made considerable contributions towards bringing the Arberesh and Albanian-American communities closer together. Following the Second World War, and indeed until 1990, doctors, dentists and pharmacists of Albanian origin in America were mainly children born of first-generation Albanian immigrants, who had fled Albanian territory inside and outside the jurisdiction of the State of Albania. Also to be mentioned are Dr. Ferid Murad, Nobel Prize winner and Honored Chairman of the Albanian American Medical Society, Dr. Vasil Popa, Dr. Agim Leka, Dr. Peter Pochi, Dr. Faton Gashi, Dr. Ramazan Turdiu, Dr. Hamdi Oruci, Dr. Daut Gjoni, Dr. Nedzat Kaliqi, Dr. Filip Çaushaj, the two dentist brothers Xhelo and Mazar Shuaipaj, Dr. Zife Krosi, Dr. Dila Vuksanaj and many more. Some of them serve now as honored members of our organization. The communist dictatorship prohibited categorically any professional cooperation between the Albanian and American medical professions. However, in the early 1990s, with the second wave of Albanians emigrating to America from both Albania and Kosovo, a considerable number of medical specialists - mainly doctors, dentists and pharmacists – arrived in the US, leaving behind a professional vacuum and a national economic deficit that remained irreparable for many years. This loss was further exacerbated by the different problem of integrating this generation of immigrants within the American medical system. Nonetheless, the US has been able to afford unlimited opportunities to convert degrees and to facilitate entrance into the medical profession. This has yielded a twofold benefit, both for Albania and Kosovo, which invested in their education, not only waiting to receive their service for Albanian patients in their home country, but also to American medicine, which needs professionals in this field. It is, therefore, a pleasure to see that there are Albanians now part of prestigious medical institutions in this country. Many are at the forefront of scientific research and innovation. Their work is published in highly regarded journals worldwide. It is also a great joy to see Albanians apply the spirit of entrepreneurship by opening and managing their own medical and dental clinics, pharmacies and offices. It is not possible to mention all the names of the hundred of Albanians who practice with dignity and resolve in their particular discipline.