Please note that we are seeing high patient volumes in the emergency department. Learn more >>.

Know before you go to the ER
Select the search type
  • Site
  • Web
Go

In the News Archive

Kenyan M.D. in St. Louis Takes Health Care Back Home

  • September 11, 2008
  • Number of views: 3271
  • 0 Comments

By Sandra Jordan, The St. Louis American, September 11, 2008

“The way richness is measured is by how much you give out,” said Milton Ochieng’, M.D.

“It’s not so much by how much you own or by how many people you can get to be indebted to you.”

Ochieng’ is blessed beyond all measures that matter. And now, so are the people of his home village of Lwala in Kenya.

Ochieng’, an internal medicine resident at Barnes Jewish Hospital - along with his brother Fred, who followed in his footsteps as a medical student at Vanderbilt University - collaborated with their dad in Kenya to fulfill a dream of a health clinic for their village.

As a child, Ochieng’ knew he wanted to do something to help his people. A high school exchange program sent Ochieng’ to Massachusetts, and he decided it would be important to further his education in the U.S.

Villagers of Lwala sold their chickens, cows and goats to get Ochieng’ (and, later, his brother) off to undergraduate school at Dartmouth College. But Ochieng’ did not forget whence he came.

As a child, Ochieng’ observed the harsh consequences of not having access to health care. If someone became ill, there was a 45-minute sojourn to the nearest paved road being pushed on the back of a bicycle before flagging down public transportation to the nearest hospital - which was another hour away.

“People waited until they had to be really, really sick before they received medical care,” he said.

“Because of this, people presented really late with their medical complaints. And so, something that would have been averted, you find people present when it is really too late to save the patient.”

Ochieng’s father was a chemistry teacher. Due to the limited access to health care, he relied on a book called Where There is No Doctor in the House to take care of ailments.

Winter break during his sophomore year at Dartmouth, Ochieng’ journeyed to Nicaragua on a service mission where he and other students built a women and children’s clinic.

“Just college students, we were able to work side-by-side with the Nicaraguans to build a clinic and therefore make a difference in the lives of the people,” he said.

“So when I came back, I talked to my dad and explained to him what we had done and thought, ‘Why not do a similar thing in Kenya?’”

It was two years before the dream started materializing, during Ochieng’s first year in medical school. Dad handled information gathering and administrative details, while Milton at Vandy and Fred at Dartmouth sought advice and funds to make it happen. Alongside came a group of kids, starting in New Hampshire, who proved that every penny counted.

“We’d have elementary school kids put together ‘Penny Wars’ and raised like $2,000 and $3,000. And that kind of money was enough for us,” Ochieng’ said.

“In Kenya, it costs $3,000 to pay a salary for a nurse for a whole year. Considering that nurse is going to see 15-20 patients a day and if you multiply this over the course of a year, little kids emptying out their piggy banks end up affecting the lives of thousands of kids in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

‘Out of death comes life’

Sadly, Ochieng’s parents did not get to see the clinic completed. Much like what is happening in many African nations (as well as the African-American community), AIDS extorted a devastating price in the Ochieng’ family. His mother died of AIDS in 2004 when he was about to graduate at Dartmouth. His father died the day after his last exam in his first year at Vanderbilt.

Ochieng’ said, “The way I like to think about it is that out of death comes life, and that has brought itself out in the clinic in many respects.”

The clinic opened April 2, 2007.

“Since then, we’ve seen over 25,000 patients. We see about 100 patients a day that go through the clinic, and 65 percent of those seen are kids under age 5,” Ochieng said.

A staff of two physician assistants, three nurses, one nurse aid, a pharmacist and a lab technician treat a range of illnesses: malaria, diarrheal diseases, upper respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. They also offer prenatal care and “public health interventions,” such as community water spring protection and de-worming children.

His older brother Omondi manages the clinic in Lwala and told his brother in a recent email the Kenyan government finally gave them a condom dispenser.

Children under age 5 and the elderly over age 70 are treated at no charge. Ochieng’ said they make up 85-percent of those who are seen. The other 15 percent (ages 5-69) pay the equivalent of 70 cents for medical service.

“Even then if they are unable to pay, we work with them,” Ochieng’ said. “We don’t send anybody away.”

Ochieng’ said they now have patients coming from several other villages to seek care at the Lwala clinic.

Also, a Nashville television reporter whom Ochieng met by chance reported a local news series before quitting his job and producing a documentary about the his family’s amazing story, Sons of Lwala. Find out more at www.sonsoflwala.com or about Ochieng’s other work for Lwala at www.lwalacommunityalliance.org.

Print
Tags:
Rate this article:
No rating
Find a doctor or make an appointment: 866.867.3627
General Information: 314.747.3000
One Barnes-Jewish Plaza
St. Louis, MO 63110
© Copyright 1997-2024, Barnes-Jewish Hospital. All Rights Reserved.