Dr. Stephen J. Laquis followed his father’s footsteps by becoming a doctor. After coming to the U.S. from the Trinidad to study medicine, the board-certified ophthalmologist constructed his own path by performing surgery on Southwest Florida minorities and patients from around the world.

Children and adults, from Tampa to Miami as well as from other countries, seek Laquis’ reconstructive oculoplastic surgery skills in traumas and cases involving tumors or cancer.

Many times, those patients are underserved kids from Hispanic families. “I do a lot to serve the community that way,” he says.

When Laquis, 40, opened Ophthalmic Facial Plastic Surgery Specialists in Southwest Florida in 2002, however, he didn’t fully realize the region’s diversity. Like others relocating to the area, he figured the population would include retirees from the Midwest, migrant farm workers and a huge base of construction workers.

“Other than that, I didn’t think the population was that diverse,” he says. “I was surprised there were people from all sorts of countries.”

Now his staff includes Spanish-speaking employees who ease the communication gap. While Laquis participates in Medicare, Medicaid, worker’s compensation and managed health care plans, he performs free surgery on low-income trauma patients at least every couple of weeks. Laquis provides trauma coverage for oculoplastic surgery at Lee Memorial Health System, NCH Healthcare System and Physicians Regional Healthcare System.

“Whatever they afford is OK; if they can’t afford anything, it’s OK, too,” he says.

Laquis also volunteers his surgical services for individuals flown into the U.S. He’s performed plastic surgery on children from Nicaragua and Costa Rica with facial tumors. He used facial implants to reconstruct the face of a woman from Colombia who lost her face in a car accident. In 2012, he plans reconstruction surgeries on a girl from Belize who needs an implant in her eye socket and a boy from Haiti with a tumor in his eyelid and face.

“Part of becoming a physician, to me, was obviously helping people,” he says. “If I can do something to help someone, and if I have the ability to do it, I receive a lot of gratification from that.”