Health Check: Health Care in Africa award

Health Check: Health Care in Africa award

A local doctor, affiliated with University Surgical Associates, has been awarded $500,000 for improving health care in Africa.

Specifically Kenya, at a hospital that performs more than half of the country's cardiac surgeries and treats a high rate of cancer.

Pointing to a picture of a young emaciated man, Dr. Russell White explains: “So this is what I see everyday. This guy’s 22 years old with advanced esophageal cancer.”

And one of thousands of patients Dr. White has treated over the years for cancer of the esophagus in Kenya--the number one cancer in this region. And normally this young man would have died but White does something special.

"In a ten minute procedure I can go in and open his esophagus, put a stent inside with a scope, let him drink. He hasn't had anything to drink in three months and this is what he looks like four weeks later."

Healthy enough for surgery, to remove the cancer. This general surgeon does this at the Tenwek hospital in Kenya, where he spends 90 percent of his time.

"I was born in the Belgian Congo. My parents were medical missionaries," he explained.

But he wasn't sure that would be his path, leaving Africa before the age of 2 for Northern Michigan.

"Started college as a music major," said White who then switched over to medicine, doing his residency through Brown University at Rhode Island hospital. But then he made one trip here to Tenwek and knew this was where he would spend most of his time.

"When I first went there twenty years ago I gave my own anesthesia, I did my own surgery. I did every type of surgery, gynecology, urology, neurosurgery, plastic surgery, delivered babies," White said.

But over the years, he has recruited doctors to run many of the programs.. Even colleagues at Rhode Island hospital, like cardiothoracic surgeon James Fingleton have stepped up, helping him start the first heart surgery program at Tenwek hospital back in 2006. Cardiac problems (congenital and rheumatic) another huge problem in this region of Africa.

"We started out with some congenital cases and then we did some adults and we did two weeks of surgery and we were the primary surgeons and Russ would help and by the end of that Russ was doing the cases and we were helping him," said Dr. Fingleton.

And now Dr. White is hoping a $500,000 International Award will help him recruit more residents and buy more equipment to expand this hospital.

"I mean a half million dollars seems like a lot but we're building a whole new cardio thoracic unit which will be the first of it's kind in that whole region," he said.

And he already has the plans in place for this $18.5 million dollar project. White is in Rhode Island for six months to continue his affiliation with Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital. And he hits the ground running.

"I do a lot of trauma. I do a lot of general surgery."

And he is hoping to make an even bigger difference--saving lives-- in his adopted homeland of Kenya.

"People will say why are you there? The short answer is I believe that's where God wants me to be."

This award of $500,000, the L’Chaim Prize, was created to highlight extraordinary Christian Medical missionary service which is what Dr. White is doing.

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