This alum prescribes a dose of kindness and compassion for a fulfilling life and a better world
B Y J E N N I F E R M O N T E M U R R O
The thing that makes Dr. Albert Goldberg '54 such a remarkable person is not the fact that he travels to Third World countries around the globe with a team of physicians performing reconstructive surgery on children with cleft lips and cleft palates. It's the fact that this Larkspur, Calif. pediatrician doesn't think what he does is such a big deal.
But, fortunately, Goldberg's humanitarian efforts, which span nearly two decades, have not gone unnoticed. He recently was chosen by the non-profit group Wisdom in Action as one of the world's 50 Unsung Heroes of Compassion - an honor conferred on him by the Dalai Lama at a luncheon in San Jose, Calif.
"That came as a complete surprise," says Goldberg, who learned of his award nomination upon returning from a medical expedition to Vietnam. "I was so honored." Goldberg embarked on his first overseas medical mission in 1983 when another pediatrician asked him to take his place on a journey to Central America. "During that time there was the war with Nicaragua and El Salvador and the other doctor's wife forbade it (the trip). I didn't tell my wife. She wasn't following the news," he says with a laugh.
From there, Goldberg says he immediately was "hooked" and since then he has averaged two to three missions a year, traveling to places like Nepal, Vietnam, Chile and Bolivia. In October his team spent time in Venezuela and he is scheduled to work in another Vietnamese city in March 2002.
Goldberg's early missions, including the Central American trip, were organized through Interplast, a U.S.-based nonprofit that provides free reconstructive surgery to children around the world. In the early 1990s he began to offer his services to Rotoplast, a similar organizaton run by Rotary International.
A typical Rotoplast expedition lasts about two to three weeks, Goldberg says, and during the first day of an engagement the medical team usually screens between 200 to 400 potential patients. "We select the children we feel we can help the most," he says. "We pick between 75 and 150 children and the next day we get up at 6 a.m. and see the first case at 7 a.m. We return back to the hotel at 10 p.m. but we usually don't get to bed until 1 a.m. because the locals always feel the need to entertain us. It is a very intense situation."
The number of children that can be treated on any given trip varies according to the conditions in the region in which they are working, Goldberg explains. "In Nepal the hospitals are extremely primitive," he says, recalling times when the doctors were forced to wrap their patients in blankets during surgery to keep them from becoming hypothermic and operate via flashlight due to electrical outages.
But regardless of such challenges, Goldberg says the incredible impact that the surgery makes on the lives of the children makes it all worthwhile.
"We really get more than we give," he says. "It's an old clich, but it's true. I've made many friends. Now with the Internet, I get at least 10 e-mails a day from people all over the world. It is a marvelous experience, even outside of the surgeries."
Ironically, Goldberg's giving nature also surfaced during the Unsung Heroes awards luncheon where he found himself sitting next to the Dalai Lama.
"That was really some thrill," Goldberg says. "What do you say to the Dalai Lama when you are having lunch with him? I was served dessert first, so I offered mine to the Dalai Lama, saying "it would be wonderful if I could tell my grandchildren that the Dalai Lama ate my dessert." Just at that moment the waiter came and gave him his dessert."
In addition to his work with Rotoplast, Goldberg maintains an active pediatric practice in San Rafael, Calif., about 20 minutes north of San Francisco and at age 69, he says he has no plans of retiring.
"My wife asks me, 'do you see any end in sight?'" says Goldberg. "And I say, 'when I wake up in the morning, and I don't enjoy what I am doing, that's when I'll stop.' I am in good health and I feel just great. It gives you so much energy."
Reflecting on his award, Goldberg offers some heartfelt advice for current Muhlenberg students and younger alums: "There are lots of opportunities for individuals to do these things, to actively practice kindness, compassion to other human beings. It is amazing how it can grow and how it can be self-fulfilling. And it is not limited to physicians. As long as you are human, you can do it.
"And, you don't have to be at the top of your class," he adds. "I certainly wasn't. It is something that everybody can and should do. Happiness is not necessarily achieved through wealth. The amount (of rewards) you receive through giving and compassion is very difficult to measure - it's immeasurable."