Images of Health and Hope

For some, medicine is a career, but for Fred and Milton Ochieng, it is a mission that has allowed them to bring health to their native Kenyan village where medical care was in short supply. Though that lack of medical care may have contributed to their parents’ premature deaths from AIDs, Milton and Fred turned their grief into a determination that others would receive adequate medical care and live.

Fred (l.) and Milton (r.) Ochieng are fulfilling their dream of bringing healthcare to their hometown of Lwala, Kenya. Their inspiration stems from witnessing family members, friends, and neighbors suffer needlessly because there were no medical facilities nearby. “When I was a teenager, I’d see cousins or family members who were ill in the middle of the night,” recalls Milton. “Then, because the nearest hospital was over 10 kilometers away from the village, sick people would have to be either carried on a makeshift stretcher, on a mattress, or pushed in a wheelbarrow to the nearest paved road, four or five miles away.” Sometimes people suffered more than they needed to. Other times, the consequences were more dire. “We had people die before they could get to the hospital,” Milton says. #####

Fred Ochieng, along with a clinic nurse, Rose Adhiambo Gayo, suture a head laceration on a boy who had been hit on the head with a brick. “The majority of the people who come into the clinic are kids,” says Fred, who plans to specialize in pediatrics. Though his studies in the United States keep him from spending as much time at the clinic now as he would like, “It’s always so fulfilling to be working with people back at home,” Fred says. “They really appreciate what we do and it’s always a breath of fresh air when we go back there.” #####

The Ochieng brothers were honored by former President Clinton in 2009 as part of the Clinton Global Initiative, an effort that promotes the combined efforts of government and the private sector to solve global problems. Here, Milton Ochieng is greeted by Clinton at the Initiative’s fifth annual meeting, September 25 in New York City. At the meeting, the Ochiengs announced their intentions to expand their clinic’s offerings. “We made a commitment to build and expand the health center so that we have a new maternity wing that will provide better obstetric care for the community,” says Milton. “So we’re committing that over the next five years, we hope to reach at least 40,000 women for prenatal care or deliveries and provide education about safe motherhood.” Of course, the expansion will require funding. “Because of this new commitment we need $1.25 million over the next five years,” Milton adds. #####

The heartbreaking story of a neighbor who died in childbirth because she was unable to receive medical attention in time was one of the inspirations for Milton and Fred Ochieng to pursue careers in medicine. Thanks to their efforts and the clinic, other mothers are now able to get adequate care during childbirth. In this picture, Fred (left) and Milton (second-to-left) celebrate with clinic staff members and a new mother, the first breech delivery at the clinic. When asked about the impact being made every day in the lives of the villagers of Lwala, Milton says, “Any hour that’s spent doing something that makes a difference in another person’s life has been usefully spent.” #####

Any person who doubts the significance the clinic has to the people of Lwala just need look at the lines of people waiting to be seen by clinic staff on any given day. To keep the clinic running while the Ochieng brothers are in the United States, “we recruited two clinical officers, two physician assistants, three nurses, a lab technician, and a pharmacist,” Milton says. “These are people who are employed full-time. They see patients Monday through Friday. Then on the weekends if there’s an emergency, we have someone who’s on call to see patients.” The full-time staff is equipped to handle the lines of patients since most are being treated for outpatient illnesses, Milton says. “This has helped us so Fred and I don’t have to feel like the clinic has stopped while we are [in the United States] getting our training.” #####

Milton (left) and Fred stand proudly at Fred’s Vanderbilt White Coat Ceremony in August 2007. Each year, the medical school invites the family members and friends of the new School of Medicine class to mark their official entrance into medical school. After graduating in 2010, Fred looks forward to making a difference in his patients’ lives. “Medicine is a service to people,” says Fred. “You get to do research, you get to discover a whole lot of things. It’s a way to help people to end their suffering. Sometimes it’s a terminal illness and you can’t do anything about it, but you can help people end their suffering in a dignified way.” #####

In this picture, Fred talks with one of the clinic’s younger patients. Fred considers his work with children to be part of his life’s purpose. “I remember coming back from my dad’s funeral and getting ready for graduation. I found one of the kids I’d been coaching and her brother had raised $45 that had been in their piggy banks. They put that money in an envelope and gave it to me with this letter that said this was for helping with construction of the clinic. I remembered thinking to myself, ‘What a blessing to have people surround you with so much love and encouragement.’ I just prayed that with this life that was broken after losing both parents within 18 months, that God would use this broken vessel to do something that would be pleasing to him.” #####

In this photo, Milton examines a child outside the clinic. Through treating patients, Milton has found a sense of purpose that transcends the pain of losing both of his parents to AIDs. “I realize that out of death you can still get life,” he says. “We lost both of our parents but we were fortunate. Unlike most of the other AIDs orphans in Kenya we had a way out. Fred and I know many other children in our village who’ve lost their parents to AIDs and, on a personal note, I feel like if there’s anything I can do to help another kid not lose his or her parents or get to spend a little more time with their parents by avoiding unnecessary loss of life, then I feel like that’s an extra minute well-spent.”

Photos courtesy of Dana Johnson, Milton Ochieng, Barry Simmons, and William Young MD