American Heroes: US Doctors Help Revive Struggling Hospital in Liberia to Save Children

PHOTO: American doctors Andy Sechler and Torian Easterling, both residents at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York, teach skills to help newborns breathe.
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This is a Thanksgiving story. Not the cranberry and mashed potatoes kind of story or even the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods kind. And it certainly isn't a history lesson. No, this is a story of courage and passion, dedication and perseverance, a reminder of the best qualities in the American spirit.

This is the story of two modern day American heroes in a place far away from home. Neither of them would like that label. They don't see themselves that way. Nor would they like being singled out. They will point to others. But let me tell you a bit about them and let you decide.

Andy Sechler was born 33 years ago in Union City, Mich., a town of 1,400. Andy's father left when he was a toddler. His mother, who he calls "the shining star" in his life, did her best, but the young family was on and off public assistance in those early days.

Andy was a good student. Very good. The valedictorian of his high school class. But he was also good at something else: football. So good that as a freshman, he walked on to the University of Michigan football team. Over the next four years the team won a series of bowl games including the 1997 national championship. Already enough to inspire, but only the beginning of the story. Andy Sechler dreamed of becoming a doctor -- a doctor dedicated to taking care of the most vulnerable, most desperate kids in the world.

I met Andy in New York City a month or so ago, on the eve of his second trip to Liberia, a struggling nation on the west coast of Africa. Liberia has deep historic ties to the United States, dating back to the 1820s when the American Colonization Society provided freed American slaves with passage to the West African coast.

Andy has worked in a variety of places in the developing world, but Liberia has a special pull. Now in the final months of his residency at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Andy is part of the hospital's impressive Global Health program.

RESOURCES: Learn more about the Mount Sinai Global Health program

Andy is quiet and methodical as he packs to go. Trained in pediatrics and internal medicine, he tells us he is eager to go back to Liberia and that, in addition to the extra-strength mosquito repellent, he's bringing a big box of pens for the nurses, as they are in short supply at the hospital. As we will soon see for ourselves, it's not just pens that are hard to come by.

We arrive in Liberia on the eve of the presidential run-off on Nov. 8. I am traveling with "Nightline" producer Bartley Price, our colleague Katie Hinman joined us the following day. As we step off the plane, our Blackberrys spring to life: three people have just been killed in pre-election protests.

There is a strong U.N. presence everywhere, complete with road-blocks and vehicle searches. You can feel the tension. We share a van to the hotel with a man who tells us he is a helicopter pilot for the South African police, brought to Liberia in case of violence. On the way in from the airport, we see U.N. helicopters hugging the coastline.

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