Dr. Quiroga worked as a personal physician to a Chilean president, Salvador Allende, before fleeing Chile after the coup d’état t in 1973. On September 11, 1973, the CIA-backed Chilean military army, led by General Augusto Pinochet, launched a coup against the democratically elected Unidad Popular Government of Salvador Allende. A team of doctors including Jose Quiroga and a few officials were the only ones to stay with the president at the palace La Moneda. Pinochet’s army came with tanks, rockets and machine guns to attack the palace and overthrow President Allende. While the palace was engulfed in flames, President Allende finally surrendered and then took his own life. Dr. Quiroga and other survivors in La Moneda were captured by the soldiers. Although two of his ribs were fractured, Dr. Quiroga, along with other doctors, was released immediately while others, the officials and supporters of President Allende, were killed.
Dr. Quiroga decided to flee due to increasing harassment and threats under the Pinochet regime. After securing his position at UCLA as an associate researcher in public health, Dr. Quiroga left Chile with his family in 1977. He soon began working in close collaboration with a refugee from Argentina, psychologist Ana Deutsch. He invited Ana to join the Amnesty International Medical Group.
At the time, Amnesty was the only organization with torture on its radar. They realized that they both had an interest in torture rehabilitation. And so, on a purely volunteer basis, they began to work with torture victims. At the time, little or no research on how to treat victims of torture existed. Shortly thereafter, Jose and Ana started an organization called the Program for Torture Victims (PTV) in 1980, and Jose established a medical arm of the program at Venice Family Clinic. PTV was a volunteer organization for 14 years until 1994 when it was incorporated as a non-profit organization. It received its first grant from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, and in 1998, received a grant from the US Congress under the Torture Victims Relief Act (TVRA). Since then, PTV hired full-time staff and has expanded its work to treat and heal survivors of torture from 65 nations across the world.
As PTV provides physical, psychological, medical and social services to victims, Dr. Quiroga asks them to tell a story of what they have gone through and documents them in the form of a book. As one news editor comments, “Dr. Jose Quiroga uses scars to help people move from torturous pasts to better lives in the United States.” Dr. Quiroga says his previous experiences have exposed him to human rights issues and that “it is not enough to be a practicing physician for money.” Dr. Quiroga urges doctors to get involved in the community and politics of one’s country to impact and make change in society.