UK student dreams big with medical orphanage

Cheyene Miller

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For years, Amy Hehre dreamed about building a place where she could help the children of Kenya, one of Africa’s sickest, most impoverished countries.  Now she is making that dream a reality along with her husband, Robert.

Hehre, who is studying to become a Physician Assistant at UK College of Health Science’s Morehead Campus, started traveling to Kenya about four years ago and now plans to open a hospital for severely ill children in the country.

After witnessing Kenya’s orphan problem, she drew up the blueprints to her dream clinic before having a professional draw them.  The design included verandas in both the front and back of the hospital so the children could have a chance to play outside.

As fate would have it, Hehre came across a building that was almost identical to her vision during a visit to Migori, Kenya in January. The couple now plans to have the 11,000 square-foot building secured by June with a total cost of $283,000, and to have the clinic opened by August 2017.

“That kind of took my five-year plan and turned it into a five-month plan,” Hehre said of finding the building of her dreams.

Hehre said there aren’t many medically based orphanages in Kenya, and those that do exist operate on insufficient funding — even as little as $400 a month to treat 100 patients.

Her new medically based orphanage will have enough space to treat 40 children, and it will focus on the most extreme cases of disease. The clinic is a nonprofit, and it will operate completely on fundraising.

Hehre is studying pediatric oncology, so she will work with the inpatient children; her husband focuses on general medicine, so he will oversee the outpatient section of the hospital. She said they decided to put their medical knowledge to use in Kenya based on their love of the country and its people and the need for medical expertise.

“You walk down the street and kids just come up and hug you, and they want to play with you,” Hehre said.  “The kids are just ready to be loved … and that’s what we work for. We want to love children.”

Hehre learned about disease from a young age, as her mother was ailed with cancer when she was a child. She always knew her mission was to work with children in some way, she said.

“My goal is that no child will ever have to suffer alone,” Hehre said. “To feel like you’re rejected by your own body is one thing, … but to feel like you’re rejected by your family or your community, I’m not comfortable with that.”

Kenya’s most prevalent diseases include HIV/AIDS, malaria, influenza and diarrheal disease, according to information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The infant mortality rate is 102 out of every 1,000 births.

The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates 1.6 million people in Kenya are living with HIV/AIDS, and 1.1 million children are orphans because of AIDS.