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The 92-year-old Brazilian pediatrician who sees patients for free

Dr Ivan Fontoura
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He tried retirement, but couldn't keep from helping kids in need.

Dr. Ivan Fontoura is a pediatrician who has been practicing medicine for more than 60 years. You’d think that, at the age of 92, this silver-haired grandfather would be happily retired, enjoying the fruits of his labor with his wife Eva, perhaps sitting on the beach near his house in a coastal region of southern Brazil. Instead, he’s going twice a week to a clinic to treat children from underprivileged families.

Why does he do this? He’s certainly earned the right to a peaceful old age. He received his first degree in medicine back in 1951, and studied in the USA and France before returning to Brazil, where he worked as a pediatrician until 2005 when he did, in fact, retire from his job as director of The Little Prince Hospital in the state’s capital, Curitiba. Yet, instead of relaxing full-time, he’s decided to continue practicing medicine to help low-income children in a nearby neighborhood.

“Medicine is a good vice”

In an article by Raquel Derevecki in Sempre Familia, Dr. Fontoura explains what happened: after six months of rest and relaxation, he felt a desire to get back to work. “Medicine is a good vice, you know? I feel happy when I help those people who are in a difficult situation, and even more when things turn out right,” he told the reporter. “That’s what it means to be a doctor.”

So, Dr. Fontoura and his wife Eva, a nurse, decided to return to actively practicing medicine as volunteers. “We began to see patients at our home, and then we helped patients who lived in the garbage dump of Paranaguá for six years, and now we are treating patients here in Pontal,” Dr. Fontoura told Sempre Família.

“I was always connected with kids in need … and I wanted to continue. There was a need for help here, because the people know me and end up asking for help. So then, with the support of the Health Department, I’m doing it in an organized way. My wife helps me a lot; she’s a great partner,” he told Brazilian website Banda B, in an article by Luiz Henrique de Oliveria.

Kids come first; lunch can wait

He keeps a busy schedule for a man of his age. For the third year now, every Monday and Thursday he drives with his wife 7.5 miles to his small office in the Jardin Jacaranda neighborhood, in the city of Pontal do Parana. Some days, he sees as many as 40 patients—always for free—often outside of his formal office hours. As a result, he often has lunch late, after 3 p.m., according to Raquel Martins de Souza, the grandmother of one of the pediatrician’s patients. She works as a cook at a local restaurant and is used to seeing him show up for his midday meal after 3 p.m.

Dr. Fontoura has been her son’s pediatrician since he was born. According to Raquel, the boy’s grandmother, “He’s a very attentive and competent doctor, who takes care of all the children who go to him … For him, the important thing is to attend to the children. He only thinks about having lunch after he’s done.”

“I’m going to die on my feet”

It’s not easy for Fontoura do keep working like this. He suffers from muscle pain and hearing problems: “I’m 92 years and eight months old, so that’s part of the reason. I wake up in pain, but I come to work and end up enjoying myself and feeling better throughout the day,” he explained to Sempre Família.

Despite the aches and pains, he has no intention of cutting back his work hours. “I’m going to continue until I can’t anymore,” he said to Banda B. “I’m going to die on my feet. Physically, I suffer, working non-stop, resting only to drink coffee, but that’s what it means to be a doctor.”

An inspiration to love others

Dr. Ivan has one son and four grandchildren who have studied medicine, and according to Sempre Família, they cite him as their inspiration. The pediatrician has also been praised by his brother, Ary Fontoura, who is a popular actor in Brazil. On Instagram, he has described his brother as an “extraordinary example of love for others.”

Dr. Ivan Fontoura has received various awards for his work, but he’s not looking for recognition. When the Banda B reporter commented on how remarkable his work is, he said, “Of course not. I do what I can. You can look around and there are a number of people who help like this, too.” What motivates him to keep going is something else: the satisfaction of helping other people. “I already earned what I need, financially speaking. So, today, I only earn satisfaction,” he told Sempre Família.

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