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Barnes-Jewish Intern Fulfills Promise To Build African Clinic

  • August 19, 2008
  • Number of views: 3008
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By Kay Quinn, KSDK-TV, August 19, 2008

His small Kenyan village sold goats and cows to buy him the airplane ticket to get to medical school in the United States, but they made him promise he would not forget about the lack of medical care back home.

And that doctor, completing his internship at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, kept his vow to build a health clinic in the African village where he grew up.

"It''s a small, rural village in western Kenya with no electricity and no running water," said Dr. Milton Ochieng, describing his home of Lwala.

Along with a lack of water and electricity, there''s no medical care. It''s also thousands of miles from the Barnes-Jewish Hospital clinic where Dr. Milton Ochieng sees patients.

"If somebody got sick, you had to put them either in a wheelbarrow or the back of a bicycle," Ochieng said, and push them on foot, 45 minutes to the nearest paved road.

"Then once you get to a paved road, you have to wait for public transportation," he said.

Many would die on that two hour trip to the hospital. Ochieng was inspired to be a doctor after watching the mother of a friend die in childbirth.

"They had to push her back in this bloody wheelbarrow," he recalled. "And I just remember the eerie cries of the women as her body was being brought back."

Dr. Ochieng''s parents were teachers who helped make his dream to become a doctor possible. They asked the village for the money for his plane ride to Dartmouth.

"So they sold their chickens, cows and goats" to get the $900, Ochieng said.

His parents also had the vision for a clinic in Lwala. But by this time, it was Dr. Ochieng and his brother, Fred, also a medical student, who raised the money. They did it as they pursed medical degrees in the U.S. and watched their parents die of AIDS back home.

In the past year, the Ochieng''s story has been made into a feature length documentary. Milton met a TV reporter in a Nashville coffee shop who was so taken with his story that he quit his job to make "Sons of Lwala."

They brothers said they''re using the documentary to raise money for the Lwala clinic that opened a year and a half ago and has served 25,000 patients thus far; fulfillment of a promise to his village and his parents.

"They''d be very proud but I also know that they wouldn''t be expecting less of me," said Ochieng.

"Sons of Lwala" won awards at the Nashville Film Festival. Ochieng hopes it will be chosen to be screened at the St. Louis Film Festival.
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