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Martha MacGuffie (1924-2011)

Dr. Martha "Bobbie" MacGuffie, a reconstructive surgeon in New City, fulfilled a childhood dream every time she traveled to Africa with her nonprofit organization SHARE. Her father, also a doctor, treated missionaries from Africa when she was young. “I said I was going to be a doctor and go to Africa,” she said. “Well, I was delayed by World War II. Then I got married and had children. Forty years later, after the last child finished college, I finally got to go.”

          Dr. McGuffie helped thousands of Kenyans since her first visit in 1987. Because she made the eighteen-hour trip only a few times a year, she made every minute of her time there count. Dr. MacGuffie earned her undergraduate degree at Cornell University surrounded by men training for World War II. She remembered enjoying the experience of being an “oddity.” In the 1940s she was the first female plastic and reconstructive surgeon to graduate from Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. She was the surgical chief of plastic surgery at Nyack Hospital for twenty-five years, where she pioneered the first burn unit and developed a prototype waterbed to ease the pain of burn victims.

          In 1995, Dr. MacGuffie went to Zaire to help Rwandan refugees who had fled during the civil war. On that trip she removed a 50 caliber machine gun bullet from the hip of a fifteen-month-old child. She wore it on a chain around her neck, she said, as a reminder of the “two million children [who] died from ethnic, religious, and territorial fighting [in Rwanda from 1990 to 2 Dr. McGuffie was also an expert on AIDS. Her sons Rob and Reid died of Fanconi’s anemia, a congenital blood disease that required multiple transfusions, from which they both contracted AIDS in the late 1970s, before anyone knew what the virus was or how it was transmitted. She founded the Rob and Reid Clinic in Kenya for the treatment of AIDS in children. “Since I can’t get my sons back,” she said, “I wanted a hospital in their name in a land that desperately needs help.” In 2000, when Dr. McGuffie was interviewed for this exhibition, there were 600,000 orphans in Kenya whose parents had died from AIDS, and an estimated one in three people there was HIV-positive.”