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Death May Breed Life to Sustain a Cause

Ruben FrescasRuben Frescas

As a physician, death is an inevitable end to critical patients that I have had the privilege to serve. My most telling memory though is not restricted to the provider-patient interaction. Our international partners in public health around the world— those who represent their own local communities—working tirelessly to make an impact in their own communities are often as vulnerable to the health care struggles they battle as those they serve. Sometimes their fight takes their life, and I want to acknowledge their commitment and honor their contribution.

Embulbul, located outside of Nairobi, Kenya, is a community I had the privilege of working with over a four year period. The initiatives of locally grown programs strived to provide a safe haven for children. This was a place for additional school tutoring, a place to learn art, song, dance and sports. Children found this to be a safe space to wait until parents returned from work, protected from the violence and drugs on the streets. The best part was that this program was supported by local Kenyans with no more than the small plot of land they lived on and the desire to improve things for the next generation.

During my first trip, I worked closely with the founders and the women who supported the mission of this program.  While there, the women desired to learn about diarrheal disease and treatment, HIV, etc.  We conducted workshops, and I would depend heavily on the aid of the local translators —the young women who learned their English in school—to communicate with the older women. The model we utilized was to teach a core group to then teach others in the community. The translators became my ears and I would learn much from them regarding our work. I had great trust and comfort in their effort. I also had great pride in their ownership of the knowledge and the curiosity in learning more.

The following year I would return.  We were warmly greeted and the room was full—a room no bigger than 10-by-15 feet—but not so full that I noticed a girl crying in the back next to an older man. The girl soon left as I spoke to the group. Upon finishing, I went over to my friends, the leaders of the program. They then informed me that the girl who left was the sister of one of the translators I worked with the year prior, who passed away unexpectedly of what was thought to be HIV. The man seated in the back was her father. My brief exchange with him required little words as our mutual facial expressions and tears spoke volumes. My respect and empathy for him, and his gratitude for the work I shared with his daughter, who by his words brought a sense of personal pride. The sister would later apologize for leaving early, but again, my heart sank as I saw her remembrance of her sister. The reminder of her sister’s passion living on in the work she was now helping to sustain.

What this taught me was that death is not something we try to combat for those we serve, whether in a hospital as a doctor, or in a community as a public health official. Death is something that we, and our partners, are not immune from. However, the cause for why we try to reduce death, by promoting preventable initiatives and treatment, lives on amongst future generations.

For the memory of our friends who have given their lives in these efforts, I want to acknowledge their commitment, service and dedication.  The mortal death of one, lives on in the immortal life of one’s cause. A great lesson I have learned.

Ruben Frescas Jr., MD, MPH '11



  • claudel gedeon

    Haiti 02/20/2013 12:05:22 AM

    I'm so lucky to find out this page and understanding what's happening over there... That's really Sad and break heart!!! But, God puts you guys on their way to shine them and to open their eyes.

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