When Dr. Anne Stevens thinks of her brother, she remembers his wide-eyed awe about the world around him. That love of discovery is what led her brother, former Ambassador Chris Stevens, to a career in diplomacy with the U.S. State Department.
“Chris was a big believer in international exchange and experiences,” said Stevens, a pediatric rheumatologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “His life was formed by global experiences, and he also inspired my little brother, sister and I to learn foreign languages and study abroad.”
Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans died in the line of service during a tragic attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.
Now, a newly funded endowment at Seattle Children’s will preserve his legacy of cultural understanding with a medical exchange that connects pediatricians in Seattle to pediatricians abroad through an intensive training and education program.
“I know if Chris were here to see this, he’d raise his eyebrows, give a big smile and say, ‘Wow! I can’t believe how neat this is!’” Stevens said.
An educational pipeline that goes both ways
Loyal Moore, the donor who funded the Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens Endowment, met Stevens during a visit to Seattle Children’s Research Institute where she studies new treatments for autoimmune conditions including arthritis, scleroderma and lupus. They got to talking about research at Seattle Children’s and her brother Chris.
“Mr. Moore was moved to donate after he heard my brother’s story,” Stevens said. “He felt the loss of a person who was doing good work, and he wanted to shine a bright light on that.”
They brought Dr. Maneesh Batra, associate director of the Pediatric Residency Program at Seattle Children’s, into the conversation. He co-manages the Resident Education and Advocacy for Child Health Program in which pediatric residents from Seattle Children’s are paired with residents in Nairobi for an eight-week rotation in Kisii, Kenya.
“The original program was designed for Seattle Children’s residents to go to Kenya, and this endowment now brings two University of Nairobi pediatric residents to Seattle Children’s each year,” Batra said. “It means a lot to have the Kenyan residents come here to enhance their training, and we hope it arms them with knowledge and tools that improves care for children whose lives are in peril due to preventable issues like diarrhea and pneumonia.”
Exchanging valuable medical knowledge
When Dr. Jemimah Karingi Mugo and Dr. Douglas Kinuthia Gaitho left Kenya and arrived in Seattle as the first residents in the new program, they created a palpable energy at the hospital. Everyone who met them, from the office workers who made their badges to the hospital’s executives, forged a common comradery with the visiting pediatricians, knowing the new relationships would touch lives of children beyond the hospital’s buildings.
The visiting doctors joined Seattle Children’s pediatric residents for a curriculum that focused on public and global health. They studied how healthcare systems are structured and met with major players in global health in Seattle, including PATH, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the International Rescue Committee.
According to the United Nations Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organization, the U.S. has a child mortality rate of 7 per 1,000 live births, compared to Kenya’s rate of 73 per 1,000, meaning Kenya’s child mortality rate is more than 10 times higher than that of the U.S.
“Kenya suffers from a high rate of child mortality due to preventable illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhea, newborn death due to sepsis, HIV and malaria,” Gaitho said. “We’re pleased to have this opportunity to collaborate with doctors and researchers in Seattle who are studying these children’s health issues.”
The residents noticed that the factors linked to negative health outcomes for children in Kenya align with many of the same factors in the U.S. such as living in poverty, access to clean water or a mother’s lack of education.
“I learned how important it is to treat the whole child and consider his or her environment,” Mugo said. “In the emergency room in Nairobi we don’t always have time to understand the whole picture, but it’s important to ask things like, where did you get your family’s drinking water? Is it linked to a particular area? Can we prevent illness for your child and other children with this knowledge?”
A lasting legacy of cultural understanding
Amid the whirlwind of medical exchange, the residents also found time to explore Seattle. For Gaitho, attending a Seattle Sounders game was a memorable experience, and for Mugo, a trip to Mt. Rainier meant she got to see snow for the first time.
Even Stevens made a new connection in her field: Gaitho put her in touch with the only pediatric rheumatologist in all of Kenya, and they have been corresponding.
“When we lost Chris and our family was thinking about how we could honor his memory and spirit, how to counteract all of the sad violent events in the world by doing something good, my mother said, ‘You should consider a medical exchange project,’” Stevens said. “This endowment speaks to Chris’ passion for learning, for connecting, for understanding. Forming these relationships has far exceeded what we imagined, and it doesn’t end after the first rotation is done. This is just the beginning.”