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Story Publication logo July 13, 2007

Medical Student's Life-Saving Dream Comes True


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Seven years ago, Milton Ochieng' became the first person from his village in Kenya to receive a...


LWALA, KENYA- In 2006, NewsChannel 5 reported about a Vanderbilt University medical student who was the first person from his Kenyan village to fly in an airplane.

People back home sold their livestock to pay for his ticket to the United States.

Now they need Milton Ochieng back to save his dying village.

Every student at Vanderbilt Medical School encounters AIDS. But only Ochieng has been orphaned by it.

First his mother, then his father - he learned of their deaths through email.

"I don't think anything really prepared me for it," Ochieng said.

In 2006, Ochieng had set out to finish what his father started.

"This is what we've got," Ochieng said, looking over architectural plans for a health clinic in his village called Lwala.

The clinic would serve hundreds with HIV who are too poor and too far away to get treatment.

"It looks more and more like a hospital," Ochieng said. "Very soon. Can't wait."

For villagers, it would mean never again having to walk miles in the dark to find help for the sick.

But the clinic, off to such a good start, never opened. Ochieng, caught up in the middle of medical school, ran out of time and money.

That's how his story ended in 2006, but it turns out, it was just beginning.

First came help from the rock band Jars of Clay and its nonprofit organization BloodWater Mission.

"Tonight it's certainly about more than baseball," one of the musicians told a crowd gathered at the Nashville Sounds stadium for a benefit concert.

"Tonight, you have a chance to make a difference," said an announcer.

The event, which preceded a Sounds baseball game, raised more than $10,000.

Later, U.S. Sen. Bill Frist heard about Ochieng and hit the airwaves with a personal plea.

"This vision will save thousands and thousands of lives," said Frist, a physician. "Absolutely. No question."

But not even Ochieng could have envisioned what came next. Students at Vanderbilt put on a fashion show.

"This has become like the biggest deal on campus right now," said student Brennan McMahon.

A designer created a special clothing line called Lwala Wear for the cause.

All of this for a village few in Kenya had even heard of.

"This is crazy, man," Ochieng said. "This is more than I thought was gonna happen."

Finally, in March, after two years, Ochieng was ready to open the clinic.

But there was just one problem. Days before he was supposed to leave, the Kenyan embassy lost his passport.

"I did get an email from one of my cousins saying, We can't open this thing without you. You got to be there. You started this. You just can't leave it hanging like that,'" Ochieng said.

But then, just three hours before his flight, he received an emergency passport.

"Oh, man, I've never been this nervous," he said.

On Thursday night, NewsChannel 5 will take viewers to Lwala for the emotional grand opening and show why it was not all festive.


navy halftone illustration of a vaccine and needle


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