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Meet Guam's only medical examiner

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Tucked behind the Guam Memorial Hospital is a doctor's office where there are no nurses or patients. As the island's chief medical examiner, he plays a critical role in serving justice and bringing closure to family's who've lost loved ones.

Meet Dr. Aurelio Espinola - the only doctor on island you'll never want to make an appointment to see. "People don't know it. They only know the importance of the medical examiner when somebody dies in their family," he said of his job. For the last 22 years, Dr. Espinola has served Guam, the CNMI, and other neighboring islands the way no other doctor in the region can - conducting autopsies and ruling the cause and manner of death. Whether natural or a traumatic loss off of life, Dr. Espinola sees on average 500 deceased persons a year, half of which he'll open up to investigate in order to provide answers for police, for lawyers, and for family members.

He said, "This is very important. Each community should have a medical examiner."

Although he retired two years ago, Dr. Espinola was called back to serve. That's because the island couldn't find a replacement. "You see, there is no replacement. It's very difficult, so I decided to stay. Even in Texas and in the US, it's hard to find a forensic pathologist. We are very few."

Most don't have the stomach to look at decomposing bodies. Others simply can't handle the years of study it takes to become a forensic pathologist, which is Dr. Espinola's third field of medicine. In the Philippines, he's also licensed as an OB/Gyn and an anesthesiologist. He admitted of his childhood ambitions, "I wanted to be a lawyer."

His calling to be a physician follows a childhood spent hating doctors. Growing up in the Philippines, his family couldn't afford healthcare and as a result, two of his brothers grew ill and passed away. "When I grow up I'll be a doctor and I will not charge anybody and I did that when I was OB/Gyn, I don't charge. All free," he said.

Aside from all his medical knowhow, Dr. Espinola has what he calls a "mind of a criminal" as his job also requires him to visit the scene of a crime and determine the murder weapon. "We are the watchdogs of the people. For instance, if they accuse you of killing somebody, I'm the only one who can say that you did not or you did," he shared. "I think this is the best profession of medicine. Because you see if you have a forensic pathologist, you can help the court keep justice."

The island recently received $72,000 in Department of the Interior funding to support Dr. Espinola's office. The funds will be used for the acquisition of a reliable specialized vehicle to transport deceased persons from crime scenes, procure surgical tools for autopsies, and purchase computer equipment and furniture.

 

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