Love for Barnwell patients is motivation for local doctor
When Dr. Afsar Waraich came to the United States from Pakistan, his plan was to get a good education, reconnect with family and fulfill a requirement on a work visa to work in an underserved area.
What he didn’t count on was falling in love with a community.
He first attended Dow Medical College and then did his 3-year internship at State University of New York at Stoneybrook. For two years following his internship, he obtained a fellowship to work at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine specializing in gastroenterology.
From New York, Dr. Waraich moved to Barnwell in 1994 to complete the requirements of his visa which called for one to two years working in an underserved community.
“I fell in love with the people, the community, the small town attitude,” said Dr. Waraich. “I like to fish and hunt. I grew in the warmth and hospitality here.”
While the doctor got to know his patients over the next 22 years, his patients got to know him. “I live in Barnwell with my wife, Saba. My children go to school here. Our families know each other.”
Dr. Waraich started work at the former Barnwell County Hospital but realized a private practice was what he wanted. “The folks at the hospital helped me and supported me. I was still able to maintain a contract with the hospital. It grew from there.”
From 1997 to 2013, Waraich had offices in Allendale and Williston and was able to bring in 13 physicians to the community. He “super specialized” to offer gastroenterology medicine, particularly colon and digestive disorders.
Barnwell County Hospital was sold and evolved into Southern Palmetto Hospital. When the hospital closed in 2016, Waraich had to move his offices to Aiken to be near surgery facilities at Aiken Regional Hospital, opening the Center for Colon and Digestive Disorders. But he and his family continued to live in Barnwell.
Recently Dr. Waraich got the chance to purchase a building on Fuldner Road near the Barnwell County Airport. He and his staff opened Palmetto Gastroenterology & Hepatology. “This is a great opportunity to set up in Aiken and continue to provide to my patients in Barnwell,” he said.
Patients are seen in Aiken from Monday through Thursday at 103 Gregg Avenue. On Friday, he sees patients in Barnwell specializing in endoscopy and colonoscopies.
“I can safely say I have done 30,000 procedures,” said Dr. Waraich. “When you acquire a special knowledge in one system of the body, your understanding becomes extensive.”
“I have known my patients for the last 20 years. I get to help them and treat them,” he said. By knowing his patients, there is less formality and more communication.
His greatest goal is to prevent colon cancer. “To do that, patients need to get a colonoscopy on a regular basis.”
Dr. Waraich said the occurrence of colon cancer is higher in South Carolina than other states, and particularly high in rural areas.
“This is a totally preventable disease,” he said. “People need to get screenings. It is covered 100 percent by insurance. People shouldn’t die of this.”
While he agrees the prep for a colonoscopy is “not fun”, the actual procedure is pretty painless. He said low-risk patients need a screening every decade while higher risk patients should have a colonoscopy every five to seven years.
“Colon cancer is the second leading cause of death in this country and it is totally preventable,” he said.
He said most patients are referred by their primary care physicians but can make an appointment independently. “Lowcountry Healthcare has been providing a tremendous service” through their referrals, he said.
Dr. Waraich says he wants to see his patients live long productive lives. They are his neighbors, too.
Palmetto Gastroenterology & Hepatology is located at 30 Fuldner Road, Barnwell. The phone is (803) 541-4702.
Center for Colon and Digestive Disorders is located at 103 Gregg Ave NW, in Aiken. The phone there is (803) 226-0434.