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Watch a day unfold for the only doctors in a tiny California town

January 24, 2013 |  1:14 pm


In the sleepy Central Valley town of Firebaugh, Oscar and Marcia Sablan treat thousands of patients -- farmers and farmworkers, rich and poor, young and old. As the only full-time doctors in town, they work long hours and often make house calls.

The couple has been in Firebaugh for more than 30 years. They came to the town after medical school in Hawaii, intending to stay just three years. But they got attached to the town, where they raised four children. In their time there, they have resuscitated heart attack victims, set broken bones and stabilized victims of gun violence. They have delivered babies and seen patients die.

The Sablans didn't stop at practicing medicine. They got involved in local politics -- he as a school board member and she as a city councilwoman and mayor. 

Firebaugh, one of the oldest towns in the area, was founded in the 1800s as a trading post and ferry crossing for gold prospectors. Now, the predominantly Latino city has about 7,500 residents, and the median income is about $33,000 a year. About 28% of its families live below the poverty level.

As they are starting to plan their retirement, these doctors are worried what will become of their patients. They have tried unsuccessfully to find young doctors to take their place. The transition will be hard for him and his wife, Oscar Sablan said.

"These are people we have guided through bypass surgeries, pneumonias, accidents and injuries, cancers," he said. "But it is something we are going to have to do, now or later."


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Video: Thirty years ago, Drs. Oscar and Marcia Sablan moved from tropical Hawaii to dusty Firebaugh, Calif., and started a medical practice in a trailer on the corner of O and 9th streets. They're still there. Credit: Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times