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Dr. Dan Kelly: Providing Hope through Health Care in Sierra Leone

On Sunday, December 14, 2008, Dr. Dan Kelly, a member of the Einstein Class of 2008, was recognized at Yeshiva University's annual Hanukkah Dinner as a "Points of Light" honoree. The honor, which recognized his accomplishments and ongoing efforts in Sierra Leone, highlights individuals who are living the values cherished at the University.

Dr. Dan Kelly with a patient
Dr. Dan Kelly with a patient (Courtesy of GAF)
To people living in the amputee communities of the war-torn, impoverished nation in West Africa, Dr. Kelly is a true hero. Thanks to Dr. Kelly, thousands of these individuals, many of them children, are now receiving the medical care they desperately need following the deliberate amputation of their limbs during their nation's bloody civil war. And, even though he has been busy with his first year of residency at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, his mind is never far from Sierra Leone. During his first vacation break, in February, he plans to return for several weeks.

The 27-year-old's work in Sierra Leone began as part of his global health fellowship between his third and fourth years at Einstein. For more than 30 years, Einstein's global health program has allowed students to travel to dozens of developing countries, helping people around the world with healthcare concerns. Working with Dr. Bailor Barrie, a Sierra Leonean medical graduate with whom he established the non-governmental relief organization called National Organization of Wellbody (NOW), Dr. Kelly is set on addressing the myriad health concerns of approximately nine amputee communities living in rural outreaches of Sierra Leone. ("Wellbody" is the Krio term for "health.")

>A woman seeking treatment for her severed hand and other ailments
A woman seeking treatment for her
severed hand and other ailments
(Courtesy of GAF)
In selecting where to go for his fellowship, Dr. Kelly considered the urgent words of fellow classmate, Issa Toure, himself a Sierra Leonean refugee, who said, "My country needs you. You should go there."

The humble and quiet Toure shared his own experiences in his homeland with Kelly, further motivating him to take action. "During the civil war and after, it was taboo to do anything for the amputees," says Toure. "I saw Dan's passion and knew if he went to Sierra Leone, he'd have an avenue to fulfill his passion, and that the people would gain a lot from it."

"Issa told me about the war, its amputee victims, and their history of medical support from Doctors without Borders," says Dr. Kelly. But most importantly, it was Toure who introduced Kelly to Dr. Barrie, his childhood friend.

Initially, Dr. Barrie served as Kelly's mentor. He has since become his partner in NOW, which is the Sierra Leone implementing partner of a U.S.-based non-profit that Kelly established in 2005, called the Global Action Foundation (GAF). Kelly formed GAF with Toure, Einstein alumni Casey Barbaro and Sheref Hassan, and others, when he first became interested in fighting extreme poverty.

A double amputee
A double amputee who walked
to the clinic
(Courtesy of GAF)
That interest was ignited during his early education at Einstein, volunteering at the College of Medicine's student-run Einstein Community Health Outreach (ECHO) Clinic in the South Bronx, which provides free health care to uninsured individuals. The four weeks that Kelly spent in Cuba during his first and second years further fueled his passion. "My experiences in Cuba emphasized for me that health care is a human right," he notes.

Since establishing NOW, Kelly and Barrie have made "wellbody" a priority in the amputee communities that their organization seeks to serve. "Our most pressing objective is to bring better health care to the amputees, who mostly live in rural outposts far from easy access to the medical treatment many of them desperately need," he says.

Central to achieving this objective was building a hospital clinic through which the amputee community could access health care. Completed in January 2008, the clinic offers free health services to amputees and their families. Since opening, clinic staff members have seen more than 4,000 individuals. Its staff also administers UNICEF's Malnutrition Eradication Program through a grant Kelly received while still a medical student. More than 600 children have gone through this rehabilitation program, to date. And, it delivered community health education to more than 35,000 women in the community.

More recently, after learning that many amputees in three of the more remote communities were finding it cost-prohibitive to get to the clinic, the organization initiated a weekly health outpost. The staff transports a basic pharmacy and laboratory to these amputee communities, providing them with quality health care at no cost. As many as 32 amputated civilians and more than 200 of their dependents benefit from this initiative.

The organization also recently completed the construction of a well for the clinic, which provides clean drinking water to staff, patients, and the broader community. Since July, it also has been providing patients with basic laboratory services that allow for tests addressing rapid malaria, random blood sugar, urinalysis, pregnancy and hematocrits. Additional plans are underway to assist the amputated civilians in opening their first palm kernel farm, which will help community members to be self-sustaining.

Dr. Kelly's commitment to GAF and NOW is just the beginning of what he considers to be his life's work. "This is what I want to do for the rest of my life," he says, adding, "My Einstein experiences triggered it all."

Early next year, Dr. Kelly will be the featured lecturer at his undergraduate alma mater, Princeton University, where he will discuss his experiences as a caregiver and the challenges of establishing a health not-for-profit organization in a foreign nation. He, Dr. Barrie, and their work also will be the focus of a documentary, "Pride of Lions," which will have its premiere in 2009.

Vitals of NOW/GAF
Dr. Kelly played a central role in the following NOW/GAF achievements:

  • Bringing all amputee camps together under one umbrella organization-a first.
  • Obtaining the donation of land from a local chieftain to use for the implementation of a micro-agriculture project that will allow the amputee camps to be self-sustaining, and to establish a hospital clinic to serve the amputee camps-health care needs. (Palm trees have been planted, for procuring palm oil, to support the costs of running the hospital clinic.)
  • Constructing a hospital clinic (completed in January 2008) offering free health services to amputees.
  • Helping to secure a governmental apology to the amputees for the indignities they have endured.
  • Receiving a UNICEF grant to implement a Malnutrition Eradication Program, making it one of a very few student-organized programs to receive UN assistance.
  • Establishing the Amputee Empowerment Program, through which NOW operates a monthly mobile clinic for nine amputee communities in the diamond-mining district (of "Blood Diamond" infamy).

Posted on: Wednesday, January 07, 2009