April 22, 2010

Event celebrates double achievement for Ochieng’ brothers

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Brothers Fred, left, and Milton Ochieng' are celebrating the third anniversary of the clinic they opening in Lwala, Kenya. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Event celebrates double achievement for Ochieng’ brothers

Fred Ochieng’, M.D., and his brother, Milton Ochieng’, became local celebrities three years ago when their efforts to honor their father’s dream of building a medical clinic in their village in a remote area of Kenya became the subject of an award-winning documentary called “Sons of Lwala.”

On Friday, April 30, Vanderbilt will host a party to help the Ochiengs celebrate the third year of their clinic’s operation and the beginning of a new chapter in the work ongoing in Lwala. The event, called Lwala: An Evening of Celebration, takes place at Langford Auditorium, with ticket proceeds benefitting the non-profit Lwala Community Alliance.

One of the highlights of the evening will be the announcement that ground will soon be broken on a $265,000 maternity ward and clinic expansion that will triple the clinic’s size. Another highlight will be the celebration of Fred’s impending graduation from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and preparation for residency in Internal Medicine/Pediatrics at Vanderbilt this summer.

It’s a dizzyingly busy time for both brothers. Milton, who is in residency at Washington University in St. Louis, is applying for a fellowship in gastroenterology. The brothers take their single break in medical training to return to Lwala May 20 and will kick off construction of the new wing.

“It is very exciting. We have been talking and planning the upcoming maternity facility for over a year now. We hope to have a few delivery beds at the clinic so that women can have a safer area to have their babies,” Fred said.

The tiny clinic they opened with only $27,000 in 2007 — soon after the loss of both parents to AIDS — now sees 1,200 patients a month and employs an all-Kenyan staff of 25: nine medical professionals and 16 auxiliary staff.

The clinic recently drew the attention of the ambassador to the African Union, Michael Battle, who called the Ochiengs’ efforts an example of President Obama’s belief that the future of Africa is to be shaped by Africans.

Lwala is located in Nyanza province, one of the poorest in Kenya, with one of the country’s highest rates of HIV infection and one of the lowest life expectancy rates. The villagers in Lwala raised $900 for the plane ticket to send Milton to the United States for medical education. The village asked the Ochiengs to represent them well, and never forget them. They never have.

“Things have come quite a long way in Lwala,” Milton said. “Since the opening in 2007, we have been able to serve 35,000 patients, most of them children under the age of 5. We joined with the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health in an initiative to expand to maternal and child health. It’s exciting to reconnect with the group from Nashville that really helped us get this off the ground. We have had so many blessings.”

When the new expansion wing opens in Lwala, a maternity ward will offer three separate rooms for labor, delivery and recovery. Another portion will provide specialized HIV clinic appointments and other programs are being added as well.

“We want to create a comprehensive HIV care center, and stock more antimalarials,” Fred said. “Malaria is the most expensive disease we treat. For the very first time, women are getting prenatal care and their children are getting vaccinations. The challenges have been worth it. People now have somewhere to go when they get sick.”

For more information, or to purchase tickets to the celebration event, please visit lwalacommunityalliance.org/donate/ or contact James Nardella at 974-1400 or james@lwalacommunityalliance.org. Ticket prices range from $30 to $250.