Profile: Meet Martin Digler, PA
Feb 23, 2018 12:10PM ● Published by Digital Media Director
Martin Digler, a Physician Assistant at Regional Health Heart and Vascular Institute, is quick to call himself blessed. When he tells the harrowing story of his escape from the violence, disease, and poverty of his West African homeland of Liberia to end up a a family man, living freely and doing work he loves in the beautiful Black Hills, it is hard not to agree.
In Liberia, where education beyond kindergarten is not free, where the average life expectancy is just 57, and where civil war had been raging off and on since 1989, DIgler managed to graduate from high school, even though it meant living in abusive foster homes and working without pay. He was helping at a hospital compound where he and his family had once sought refuge when he met Joel Swiesow, a Rapid City man who was there on a two-week mission trip, in 1999.
Swiesow and Digler struck up a friendship that eventually moved Swiesow to become Digler’s
sponsor, arrange for his entry into the US, host him in his own home, and help him pursue a college education.
“He sent me a letter at the end of that year and asked me to send my high school documents to him and he gave me some money to start college in Liberia,” recalls Digler. “At the end of the first semester, I got an email saying that I had been accepted at the School of Mines and Technology and needed to go to America to go to school.”
“It was like a dream to me,” says Digler. “God just opened the doors for me.”
But after a month of standing in line daily at the US EMbassy to get a visa, Digler had begun to lose hope of arriving in time to start school in September. An administrator at the hospital placed a satellite call to Digler’s US sponsor who contacted Senator Daschle’s office for help.
A month later, Digler was living in the Swiesow’s basement in Rapid City while studying interdisciplinary science at the School of Mines. He had long had an interest in science and medicine, having spent time on the Phebe hospital campus and having lost several siblings to disease.
Martin eventually transferred to SDSU where he majored in Biology and was later accepted into the Physician Assistant program at Long Island University in New York. After five years in the cardiology department of a Wisconsin hospital, he jumped at the chance to return to Rapid City with his wife and four small children in 2014.
Although he has come a long way, Martin has never forgotten his Liberian roots. He has been actively involved in starting, maintaining and raising money for a Liberian orphanage and school that helps children like himself get educated without the threat of abuse. Last Fall, he returned to Liberia to bring much needed medicines. “I always loved the environment here and I like the outdoors,” says Digler. “Spending time in New York made me really appreciate living in the Midwest. Also, I wanted to come back here to be closer to family.” In addition to the Sweisows, Digler also has a biological sister who lives in the area.
“I am blessed to be working with great physicians and a great healthcare team,” he says “I gain so much knowledge from them and they are supportive of my dreams. They want to provide good healthcare for the people of Rapid City and also for the people of Liberia.”
Web Exclusive: Read the stories of other international students who are now practicing medicine in South Dakota click here.