Originally from Louisville, KY, Dr. Mary E. Fleming has been serving as one of our international volunteers for the past six months. She has been serving at the Mutomo Mission Hospital as an OB/GYN, bringing her skills, care, and compassion to the mothers and children of this vulnerable community. 

Along the way, she has met several health professionals who have inspired her. Today she shares their stories. What a beautiful reminder of the power of people to change the world, no matter where they come from and where they are. 

I used to think I was kind of smart until I came to Mutomo.

The amount of new information was daunting at first – new names of medications, different policies and procedures, new languages.

I have always been in awe of family medicine physicians at home, and this respect multiplied for the general practitioners in Mutomo.  There’s a phrase that describes family medicine physicians as caring for the patient from the cradle to the grave.  How profound is that?  Being versed in all aspects of medicine – from pregnancy and newborn care to orthopedics, surgery to hypertension and diabetes,  cancer to end-of-life care – it’s amazing.  I’m just an OBGYN and I am happy about that.

In addition to commanding such a broad range of medical knowledge, the physicians here also take phenomenal care of their patients with very limited resources. Doctors like John Amollo, for instance.

Dr. Amollo from Mutomo Mission Hospital

Dr. John Amollo has been here at Our Lady of Lourdes Mission Hospital for nearly 20 years, although his home is in Kisumu, in western Kenya. I venture to guess there are very few people in town who don’t know him or garner the utmost respect for him as a physician.

Over the years, with transition of staff, he has been known to be the only medical officer on the premises, holding responsibility for the medical, surgical, pediatric, and maternity wards. On any given week, Dr. Amollo can attend to cesarean sections, set fractures, perform biopsies, hysterectomies, prostatectomies, and pericardiocentesis, and reassure a frail geriatric patient about her shortness of breath.

He approaches patients with compassion and respect, understanding both their medical and financial needs when he formulates treatment plans.  I can’t say I’ve ever met a more versatile doctor in my life.

Dr. Amollo an amazing doctor in Kenya

Meet Dr. Bella

Newest to the team is Dr. Bella Musaniwabo. Originally, from Burundi, she joined the staff here in July of 2017. True to her name, she is the Belle of Mutomo.  She always greets you with a smile and her effervescent personality is infectious. She never meets a stranger, so walking through town with her comes with many salutations of “Hi, Dr. Bella!”

Though early in her career, she is an astute physician, intent on caring for the whole patient. She led my first orientation of the hospital (yet left me to fend for myself on day two!). Over the past several months, we have seen many patients together, done ultrasounds together, and assisted each other in the operating room. An aspiring OB/GYN, we of course became fast (and I expect) life-long friends.

Dr. Bella Musaniwabo

Meet the Home Town Doc

Hometown boy, done good, is Dr. Francis Mutua. He is an exceptional physician, a trustworthy colleague, and a great friend.  As a child, he aspired first to join the military police, and then to be a nurse. Thankfully, with some encouragement and counsel from a mentor at the hospital, he set his sights on a career as a medical doctor.

After training in Uganda and completing his internship in Nakuru, Kenya, his journey brought him back home to Mutomo. Ever since, he has remained invested in both the health and economic growth of his community. He and his sister recently invested in a petrol station nearby in anticipation of a new road coming through the town.

He greets everyone with a, “Mambo”, “Sasa” , or “Habari,” and frequently stops to shake hands as we walk through town, the pride of the locals evident on their beaming faces.

Dr. Francis Mutua

I thought I’d take a little time to get an inside perspective from Dr. Mutua today.

What was your motivation to become a physician?

I finished my high school education in November 2003. I had more or less NO clear plan for my future life after I failed to secure a placement in the public university. College education as a self-sponsored individual was beyond my imagination. Having been raised by a single parent and a peasant farmer, things were never easy.

I am an unlikely person to have become who I am today. – Dr. Mutua

The journey of my life since then to this point began with a casual job at Mutomo Mission Hospital. My first ever assignment was to cut grass at the hospital compound right in front of your house, Mary!

This then led to my subsequent enrollment into the Youth Peer Education Programme where I would meet and interact with Anita (a senior administrator for the hospital) for four years, and through whom I secured sponsorship to study medicine in Uganda.

My main motivation to pursue this course was from the frequent interactions I had with patients, especially those infected and affected by HIV/AIDs. And through good mentorship and wise counsel from a clinical officer friend working at the hospital, I made an application and got an admission. I thank him and my Swedish sponsors for making it possible.

Is Mutomo different than when you left to attend medical school?

Very different. When I left, the town consisted of one small shopping center. With no power connection to the national grid, life ended at six pm with the fall of darkness; except for the hospital compound that enjoyed the luxury of generator powered light until 10 pm. There was no major economic activity and businesses that existed were run on a very small scale.

Six years later, five financial institutes have invested in the area. Businesses are run on a much larger scale and animal and poultry farming are part of the economic activities taking place. The dream for a better Mutomo is very much alive especially with the increasing connectivity to hydroelectric power, the road upgrade to bitumen standards, and the piped clean drinking water project that is near completion.

What makes Mutomo special? Why was it important for you to return?

To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled by the fact that I was coming to work in my home town. As a matter of fact, my coming back to Mutomo was more of honoring the memorandum of understanding I had with my sponsors and the hospital. I had agreed to work for at least three years as a sign of appreciation for my sponsorship.

But do you know what, as I speak to you, I am the happiest person and glad to have come back to Mutomo. The good interactions with colleagues, friends, and networking with visiting doctors like you have given me a solid foundation.

Above all, I have had the utmost satisfaction and joy interacting with almost every patient that I have seen; some strangers, many known, several related. Of course, there are those I am unable to totally solve their suffering, and that pains me. It gives me a challenge – that’s why I am definitely going back to school, and then, I SHALL RETURN.

What are the major challenges for the area?

Socio-economic: The majority of people living here have little to no income. There is a general lack of employment for the young and most productive persons. Despite the improvements, infrastructure remains poor.

Climatic: Mutomo is a semi desert area. The lack of rain means that it is very difficult to sustain agricultural activities, which is the main economic venture for the majority of people living here.

Educational: Many people are semi-illiterate. The cost of education is too high for the majority to afford.

Disease Burden:  Especially with the upsurge of non-communicable illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. Ignorance plays a key role in disease progression. Many patients present at advanced stages when little to nothing can be done. And unfortunately, there is a lack of the specialized care.

What are your hopes and dreams for the community in the future?

The future is bright, and there are better days yet to come. That is why going back to school is a MUST for me. I dream of a day when no patient shall be sent to a far away town for an ultrasound or CAT scan or any test. I  see a day when every specialty shall be available under one roof. I foresee myself carrying out laparoscopic surgery for a poor young man with an intestinal obstruction right here in Mutomo.

The road will be complete in a few years, water soon flowing, the market will grow and businesses shall thrive. An all new record for the local economy will be seen. This is what I dream and what I believe. Thank you, Mary for finding time to be with us.

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