Danville doctor detained in Zimbabwe

July 16, 2004|EMILY BURTON

A local urologist and his wife, a nurse, on a medical mission trip in Zimbabwe were recently relieved of their passports for apparently dubious reasons. Dr. Ed Montgomery, 57, of Maple Avenue, and his wife, Sara Jane, have been in the capital city of Harare for approximately two weeks.

Details are sketchy at best, said their eldest daughter Ashley Montgomery, of Lexington, but at one point Dr. Montgomery was apparently placed under arrest.

"There has been very little contact," said Ashley. "Everything I know is very censored, and I have had no direct contact with them." It appears the letters have even been cut in several spots and were undated, she said.

"Ashley has received a few e-mails, but the e-mails are censored. So some of the sentences are incomplete. You have to guess at what they were trying to say," said the Montgomery's former mission trip companion Dr. Chris Jackson.


What is known is not encouraging. The Montgomerys apparently left the capitol to provide charity medical services to the people of Zimbabwe. For unknown reasons, Dr. Montgomery was arrested and spent time in jail. While it is thought that he has been released on bail, the couple's living conditions in Harare are unknown, said Ashley.

"All I know is, my parents went over to do some medical work for a population that is in dire need of medical help, and my father was arrested or detained, and I don't know why."

At one point, a trial date of next week was said to have been set. With assistance from the U.S. Embassy, the Montgomerys have obtained a lawyer, and she believes that date has been postponed, their daughter said. "I think they realize this is a very serious situation, and they are taking it very seriously."

Only speculation about why he is being held

The exact charges he faces can only be guessed, but it is widely speculated that he is being held for improper documentation or incomplete paperwork certifying his license to practice medicine, according to Ashley Montgomery and Dr. Jackson.

Soon after his arrest, Dr. Montgomery contacted several local professionals and Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center with requests for proof of being a urologist in good standing, a United States citizen in good standing and a copy of his medical license.

"I know that there was a law passed in Zimbabwe recently about some certification or permit" needed to practice medicine, said Ashley Montgomery. Her parents had completed all of the required paperwork to the best of their ability before leaving, she said.

"I think Dad felt like it wasn't America, but it was safe, and he could provide services that were needed ... and it was a good risk," she said.

The Zimbabwe Embassy in Washington D.C. said that it would be impossible for them to know about one person who was arrested in that country.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Darla Jordan said she couldn't release any information on Montgomery because neither he nor his family had signed a privacy waiver, and then Jordan directed the newspaper to the Zimbabwe Embassy in Washington D.C.

This morning the press office of that embassy said that if Montgomery was arrested then he would appear before the court and be charged.

"He'll be treated fairly," the official said. "If the police are involved, he is in good hands."

He then began to ask the newspaper, "Why are you calling me? You must have nothing better to do - go take a nap," he said and hung up the phone.

E-mails to one of the country's newspapers, the Zimbabwe Independent, went unanswered.

An article published by that newspaper on July 9 reported that the State Department warned U.S. citizens against traveling to the country.

That warning said, "Zimbabwe continues to be in the midst of political, economic and humanitarian crises with serious implications for the security situation in the country."

The Zimbabwe Independent reported that the warning would have a "chilling effect on the already depressed tourist arrivals," noting that tourists "usually take heed of State Department security advice."

In November 2002, U.S. Embassy staff members were detained and one was beaten by war veterans on a farm near Harare, according to the travel advisory.

Dr. Montgomery has recently retired

Dr. Montgomery had recently retired from his practice and a 27-year career with Ephraim McDowell Health.

While with EMH, Montgomery had been chairman of the department of surgery, president of the medical staff and various other hospital committees and is currently a board member of Ephraim McDowell Health.

EMH spokeswoman Mary Begley said the staff had benefited from Dr. Montgomery's services, and were sending their prayers to the couple.

"Dr. Montgomery was the first urologist to practice at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, and he brings visionary leadership to the committees he leads," said Begley.

He has also served as the medical director of Central Kentucky Physicians Inc. and was a founding director of the Kentucky Trust Company.

"Since he's retired I think that he's found a nice purpose in life in helping other people, and it's unfortunate that this had to happen," said Ashley Montgomery. The Montgomerys had participated in similar mission trips, without incident, in Haiti, Kenya, China and Europe and were looking forward to their Zimbabwe mission, she said. They were to travel with friends who had been there before, but not an organization or church.

As it stands, updates on the situation have spread throughout the local medical community by word of mouth, and while many want to help, few know how.

"We're frustrated and can't figure out what to do to be helpful," said Jackson.

Ashley said she and her five siblings were also waiting to help the embassy, but they could do little else. "Right now I'm in a holding pattern, waiting to hear from my father."

Advocate Staff Writer Liz Maples contributed to this story.

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