When Otuokere “Paddy” Njaka ’67 opened a hospital in Nigeria shortly after he graduated from Loyola University, he named a wing for Charles Casassa, S.J., the university’s president. Bringing health care to his homeland was the Nigerian chief’s dream, and it was made possible by the friends and inspiration he found at Loyola.
But in 2002, the hospital shut down. Now, Njaka and a team of Loyola alumni are working to resurrect it.
“I was inspired to open the hospital because the need was great,” said Njaka, the hereditary chief to a tribe in the state of Akokwa. “I saw a way to put into action the care and compassion that was nurtured at Loyola.”
For 27 years, the Njaka Community Medical Center was an effective, community-based treatment center for the Akokwa people and the surrounding rural areas. Its services like prenatal care and free immunizations drastically improved public health, and emergency treatment was available for acute illnesses and injuries. The hospital also served as a residential training center for paramedical staff for Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health.
But circumstances forced the hospital to close. Beginning in 2011, Njaka’s friends from Loyola, Chuck Ramirez ’62, Detroit Flanagan ’64 and Nick Lebedeff ’67, have been working to raise funds for the nonprofit American Medical and Educational Services in Africa to revive the Njaka Community Medical Center. Nick’s son Christopher Lebedeff LMU ’01, M.B.A. ’05 is also working with the group.
It is natural that Njaka turned to his friends in the LMU network: While he was a student, then-President Casassa officiated at his wedding to his American-born wife, Linda, and later baptized his daughter. When Njaka returned to Nigeria, he continued to correspond and work with Casassa and his successor as president, Donald Merrifield, S.J., both of whom served as chair of the AMES board of directors. And Njaka never lost touch with the friends he made at the university.
Lebedeff said funds are needed to clear the area, which has been become overgrown by trees and vines, repair the roofs of the buildings and begin new buildings, and to bore a hole to bring fresh water to the location. “It served as the community’s only medical facility for over 275,000 residents, including 24/7 urgent care and preventive care,” said Lebedeff, CEO and founder at Project Firebird, a software development company. “Today, if you are a resident of Akokwa, or just visiting, and you have a medical emergency, you are on your own.”
Flanagan has been impressed with the commitment Njaka has shown to his people and the hospital. “I was compelled, by Paddy’s singular dedication to this project, to do whatever I could,” he said. “Improving the lives of the people in the rural village from which he came is a noble and creditworthy undertaking. We must make this goal a reality; the people of his village are suffering needlessly when help is so near.”