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Unsung hero: This engineer-turned-physician goes to far-flung countries and gives people their lives back

Even before considering medical school, Clifford Char was thinking about giving back to those less fortunate.

He was working as a chemical engineer — designing photographic paper at Eastman Kodak Co. in Rochester, N.Y., and making good money — but felt there was something missing.

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"When you're working in corporate culture, you're basically trying to make your boss happy," said Char, 57, of Seal Beach. "I was thinking there has to be more to life than this."

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Editor's note: This is an installment of Unsung Heroes, a new annual feature that highlights otherwise overlooked members of the community.

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In 1985, Char left his five-year engineering career to pursue medicine. He graduated from the John A. Burns School of Medicine in his home state of Hawaii in 1989. He did his residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital at Harvard Medical School, and then completed pediatric/cardiac training at Boston Children's Hospital.

Nearly 30 years later, Char is an anesthesiologist at, among other places, St. Joseph Hospital and Children's Hospital of Orange County, both based in Orange. Char has traveled with nonprofits such as Operation Smile on medical missions to the Philippines, India, Ethiopia, Guatemala and elsewhere to assist in surgeries involving cleft palates, hernias and other medical problems. Since 1998, he's completed about 25 trips.

"He really embodies the idea that all of us have responsibilities to be global citizens," said Daniel Liu, who has known Char since 2002. "He brings world-class healthcare to those who can't afford it."

In some cases, Char said, the social stigma behind the person's handicap is greater than any physical trauma.

"There are some countries that just leave the kid in the jungle and let them die," Char said. "With a simple two-hour surgery, they have their life back. You see them look at themselves in the mirror, or you see the mother look at the child, and you just see hope."

Char said he felt obligated to donate his time and skills because of his Christian faith.

"It really is an amazing experience because you go to areas that just don't have anything," Char said. "I've been blessed, so I should be helping other people."

In addition to being a trained engineer, a physician and a philanthropist, Char is an elder at Journey Evangelical Church in Westminster. He and his wife have a son, 21, and daughter, 23.

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Nuran Alteir is a contributor to Times Community News.

Twitter: @whatnuransaid

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