Staff at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno were recently shadowed by an extraordinary international visitor: Miagul Sahar, nursing director of Afshar Hospital in Afghanistan.
The native Afghan focuses on caring for pregnant women and their babies in a country where childbirth fatalities are staggering.
One in eight women in Afghanistan died due to complications related to childbirth in 2012, according to statistics from American Medical Overseas Relief, a Fresno nonprofit that funds Sahar's hospital.
His mission while at CRMC earlier this month? Soak in as much new knowledge as possible to help prevent more of those deaths in his homeland.
His work helping pregnant women and their babies was honored with the "Unsung Heroes of Compassion" award last month in San Francisco, presented by Wisdom in Action.
The Dalai Lama attended the awards ceremony Feb. 23 to honor Sahar and 50 other worldwide recipients of the prestigious award.
At the end of February, Sahar began a two-week stay in Fresno to further his medical training before returning to Afghanistan.
Sahar came from humble beginnings. As a boy, he did masonry work in construction to help support his family. He saw a lot of suffering in his war-torn country and wanted to be a part of the healing. To pursue his passion to become a nurse, Sahar's father saved up money to send him to school.
Since then, he's worked in nursing for 18 years. In 2009, he became nursing director of Afshar Hospital, which focuses on maternal and child care services and is located in the southwest region of Kabul, the capital city.
The 100-bed hospital opened in 2009, made possible through funding from American Medical Overseas Relief. The nonprofit's president is Darius Assemi, president of Granville Homes.
The Fresno group started exploring ways to open a hospital in Afghanistan in 2004, primarily because at that time mortality rates for women and children in the country were the worst in the world, said Davena Witcher, executive director of AMOR.
Today, Afshar Hospital treats around 5,000 patients a month, two-thirds of them women and children, Witcher said. The hospital has 155 Afghan employees supported by three staff members in Fresno, she said.
Sahar was drawn to Afshar Hospital because of its affordable, quality medical care, which he said far surpasses government-run hospitals in his country.
"At Afshar Hospital, the money is not important," Sahar said. "We have to provide quality health care at the same level for all people, rich and poor."
The hospital also does extensive outreach, routinely setting up health clinics in some of the poorest villages of Afghanistan to provide prenatal and postnatal care, vaccines, clean water, clean birthing kits and health education. Health care providers also talk to women about the benefits of giving birth in a hospital, since 20% of Afghan women still give birth at home, Witcher said.
Going forward, Sahar hopes Afshar Hospital can continue to expand through donations via AMOR, which helps pay for needed medical equipment, supplies and staff.
Watching and training with doctors and nurses at Community Regional on March 11-12, Sahar said he learned a lot and is grateful for some donated supplies he received from the Fresno hospital. He saw new equipment not available in his country, and said he learned how to use some of his own equipment more efficiently.
"This is a very proper hospital, a very nice hospital, a very clean hospital," he said of Community Regional.
His favorite part of the two-day hospital tour? The miracle of birth -- watching the delivery of a premature baby.
Cultures in Afghanistan and America may be dissimilar, but pregnant mothers and their physicians anywhere in the world have the same hopes, Witcher says: Creating healthy, happy futures for the children they care for and love.
Back in Afghanistan, Sahar plans to continue doing just that.
How to help: To donate to American Medical Overseas Relief, which funds Afshar Hospital, visit www.amorelief.org online.