HIGHLANDS – Dr. Joseph Agris is a plastic surgeon, known all over the world for his volunteer work reconstructing bodies damaged by war.
He is even better known in Houston, as the doctor who accompanied Marvin Zindler to Central America to reconstruct cleft palates on children.
Agris is a surgeon affiliated with Methodist Hospital and Texas Childrens Hospital. He is also an author of four books about his travel and medical relief work in 36 countries, including Nicaraugua, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Highlands Rotary was thrilled to hear some of the stories Dr. Agris told, about his adventures around the world as part of this work. As he told his story, the audience could picture the scenes almost like a movie. In fact, he mixed his own story of healing, with tales of danger and in trigue. He told about a trip through the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, how he made friends with local tribesmen, perhaps Al-Qaida, and they introduced him to Osama bin Laden, in a cave in Bora Bora near the pass. Bin Laden was with his “senior” wife and their kids. Dr. Agris performed some medical work on this group of tribesmen, but said he was not sure he would leave this encounter alive.
The Khyber Pass is a famous route also known as the “Silk Route,” a trading passage from China to Europe that has been used throughout history.
For the humanitarian work that Dr. Agris has performed in his 40 year medical career, he was presented with the highest civilian award the U.S. bestows, the Medal of Freedom. The presentation was made by President George H. W. Bush in Washington.
Dr. Agris is a Rotarian with the Houston club, and is also head of the Agris-Zindler Foundation. This charity funds polio work, and the AgrisZindler Childrens Foundation, which continues his humanitarian surgery work on children.
Dr. Agris has many tales to tell of his world travels, and shared with Rotarians the beautiful views he had in the Himalayas. He took many pictures from the summit, some of which appear in his books.
He said that in his travels around the world, especially to countries where different languages made if hard to communicate, he has found that an old Polaroid camera that he carries with him is an excellent way to make friends. Many persons have never seen a film picture that develops in front of them like the Polaroid film, and they consider it “magic.”
Dr. Agris said that his work not only helps heal patients physical being, but in many cases his presence is a message of hope and caring. In countries such as Syria, where there have been horrendous war wounds, he not only treats burn victims, but can send a message about social issues such as the call for womens’ rights in these countries.
Dr. Agris latest book is “Mission Divided” about his travels and travails in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His other books are “White Knight in Blue Shades,” “Miracles in Bedlam,” and “Tears in the Sand.” The latter book is about his encounter with bin Laden.
Dr. Agris supports his volunteer work with the sale of his books, and donations.