One rainy evening 10 years ago, Patricia Opiyo, a pregnant woman from the remote village of Lwala, Kenya, went into labor with a breech birth.
“Her relatives put her in a wheelbarrow and pushed her to get to the main road to flag a ride to the hospital 40 kilometers away,” recalls Dr. Milton Ochieng’, MD’08, who was a teenager at the time, “but she hemorrhaged to death before they reached the highway.” The unborn baby died, too.
That incident is one of the reasons Milton and his brothers, Fred and Maurice, who grew up in Lwala, have since toiled to fulfill their father’s dream of building a health facility there. On April 2, 2007, that dream came true with the opening of the Lwala Community Health Clinic.
Now a much wider audience will hear their story. Barry Simmons’ film, Sons of Lwala, which documents the story of the Ochieng’ brothers and the Lwala clinic, premiered at a special fundraising showing at Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in March. The documentary will be shown in other cities to raise money and also may be entered at film festivals.
“We hope the film will help us raise enough money to fund the clinic for two years,” says Milton.
During its first two months of operation, up to 1,500 patients streamed into the clinic. Civil unrest in Kenya has forced people to flee populated towns for rural areas, resulting in numbers swelling from around 60 patients a day to more than 100. As a result, the need for funding has increased.
Last December during the winter break, Milton, Fred and their sister, Flo, a second-year nursing student at St. Joseph’s College of Nursing in Syracuse, N.Y., worked at the Lwala Clinic with a couple of student volunteers. One day a pregnant woman named Lillian entered.
“It was a breech birth,” Milton says. “We tried to call a taxi, but with the violence in this part of Kenya, all the roads were blocked.”
With a medical procedure book and cell-phone call to the obstetrician mother of one of the volunteers, Milton and Fred (a current Vanderbilt medical student) performed the first breech-birth delivery at the clinic. The result–a baby girl weighing nearly 8 pounds, born Dec. 30, 2007.
“Do you remember Patricia Opiyo, who died in that wheelbarrow years ago?” Fred asked.
Milton nodded. Her death and the helplessness he felt at the time were seared into his memory.
“Do you realize you just delivered Patricia’s granddaughter?”
“I felt in that moment my father’s dream had come full circle,” says Milton. “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
© 2014 Vanderbilt University
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