Galo Burbano aids children while honoring mom

Blanca’s House delivers critical medical services to needy 3,000 miles from home, founder dedicates countless hours

By Mara M. Zonderman

December 19, 2008 | 03:32 PM
Inspired by childhood memories of his mother caring for friends and family, nurse anesthetist Galo Burbano determined to use his training to bring medical care to underprivileged children in his native Ecuador. To best serve the poor and sick of that nation, Burbano founded Blanca’s House, named for his mother.

Blanca’s House is a volunteer-only organization that arranges for health care professionals to spend time helping care for people who would otherwise have no access to modern health care.

For all his selfless work helping others, Galo Burbano is The Port Times Record Man of the Year in Health and Medicine.

“I was born in Ecuador,” Burbano said, “my mother’s name was Blanca and my house was the place where everybody came, and my mother took care of them.”

Although there were biologically only four members of his family, Burbano, 45, said that his mother hosted 15 to 20 people for dinner nightly. “These are our family, and we have to help,” Burbano recalled his mother saying, adding that she also helped arrange employment for people who came to her for help.

Arriving in the United States at the age of nine, Burbano and his family settled in Brooklyn, later living in Queens. A graduate of Adelphi University, Burbano trained to be a nurse anesthetist at Bridgeport Hospital and Southern Connecticut University. He also earned a master’s degree in biology from Southern Connecticut.

Working in his medical field for 18 years, today Burbano is the chief nurse anesthetist for Long Island Nurse Anesthetists, a practice that provides anesthetists for Mather, St. Charles and Eastern Long Island hospitals.

Burbano and his wife Mary Anne have two children, 15-year-old Zachary and 10-year-old Ashlyn.

“I love what I do,” Burbano said. “I often talk to my children about success, and I tell them to find something you like, and do that, and you will be a success.”

To give back, Burbano decided to provide free medical care to his former countrymen and other poor people in developing countries. He gathered together physicians and others he knew from his practice at Mather and St. Charles and organized the first Blanca’s House mission.

“From our first mission with just Mather and St. Charles, we’ve grown to incorporate people from other hospitals,” he said, including Stony Brook University Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center and Eastern Long Island Hospital.

For the most recent mission, to Babahoyo, Ecuador, Burbano brought about 50 medical volunteers, including doctors, nurses, X-ray technicians, nurse anesthetists and operating room technicians.

“We do this with donations from our colleagues, from our friends and from more and more people finding out about it,” Burbano said.

Besides three trips planned for 2009, Blanca’s House also runs a junior volunteer program at Ward Melville High School for those who want to help. After seeing the poverty, Burbano said, the WMHS students “see how blessed they are.”

“Galo is the big cheerleader,” said Mather pediatrician Dr. Keith Ancona, one of the medical staff who joined Burbano in Babahoyo. “He got everyone together, ran the mission, kept everyone’s spirits up, and does everything that’s humanly possible to get things done.”

Dr. Ancona recalled Burbano’s reaction when a 10-year-old girl arrived at the clinic with an orange-sized lump on her head. “We couldn’t tell if the lump was connected to her brain, so Galo put her in a car and drove her two hours to a major city and back so she could get a CAT scan.”

Another example of Burbano’s generosity related by Dr. Ancona occurred when Burbano hosted a young girl in his family’s house for about five months while she underwent cancer treatments.

“He wakes up in the morning with a smile on his face, goes to bed at night, after everyone’s complained, with a smile on his face,” Dr. Ancona said. “A special kind of guy, and one of those real good guys, so of course everyone wants to do everything they can for him.”

Having completed several missions to Ecuador, Burbano is taking Blanca’s House to Costa Rica in 2009. But his work will continue in Ecuador since, in addition to the medical attention he arranged, the charity also established a supply chain with an existing clinic. “We are working with a clinic over there where we’re not just going to fix things and leave,” he said. “We are sending them supplies, continuing to follow up with care.” Blanca’s House, which details its mission at www.blancashouse.com, recently held a fundraiser at the Meadow Club in Port Jefferson, and is always looking for volunteers and donations.

“Blanca’s House continues to grow, we’re expanding right now, trying to do as much as we can,” Burbano said. “Basically we want to help as many people as we can, not just outside of the United States, but right here in our own backyard.”

Basically, Galo Burbano wants to help — anyone, everyone — make the world a better place for us all. And for his generosity, his compassion and his ability to inspire others to help, Burbano earns our admiration and our honors as Man of the Year in Medicine.

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Blanca’s House presents at the TEDx Event in La Jolla, California

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