Dec. 1, 2016 | Like most UAMS physicians, colorectal surgeon Jonathan Laryea, M.D., feels the responsibility to give back to the community.
Unlike most UAMS physicians, his community includes the West African nation of Ghana where he grew up.
For more than 20 years, Laryea, an associate professor for surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine, has been traveling to countries in West Africa for surgical missions. He has been traveling to Liberia since 2012 to offer humanitarian services through a foundation called Health Education and Relief Through Teaching (HEARTT).
“For me, it’s a part of giving back,” Laryea said. “It’s been a passion of mine. I’m originally from Ghana and I’ve been blessed. It’s my way of contributing to that part of the world.”
One grateful patient was so impressed with Laryea that he traveled to the United States after this year’s visit to thank him in person.
According to the Liberia Medical and Dental Council (LMDC) statistics that were last updated in July 2016, Liberia has only 298 physicians for the 4.5 million population making the doctor per patient ratio 1:15,000. There are only 12 surgeons, which makes surgical care very difficult to come by.
“Over the years we have brought equipment and supplies that enable us to work seamlessly,” Laryea said. “And we establish relationships with patients that allows for continuity of care. Not only do we do surgeries, we also teach medical students, medical residents and other physicians to be able to take care of the patients when we leave.”
In September, Laryea met Nathaniel Kevin Ejiogu. Ejiogu says he knew he was past due for a colonoscopy and signed up for a screening through the HEARTT Foundation.
“I had heard about the HEARTT Foundation and the things they do for our country,” Ejiogu said. “But I never had the time or opportunity to go and get tested. This year, I decided to go ahead.”
Ejiogu’s screening was on a Friday.
“They called me to say that there was something not normal,” he said. “I decided to go through an operation on Saturday.”
Laryea performed the surgery, which went well, and Ejiogu left the hospital on Wednesday. Then Laryea returned to the United States.
“I trusted Dr. Laryea with my care,” said Ejiogu, who has family living in the United States. “While I waited to see if my results were cancerous, I was told my files wouldn’t be on record at the hospital. So I said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to see Dr. Laryea.’”
One month later, Ejiogu was in an exam room at UAMS for a follow-up. Laryea had already told Ejiogu on the phone that the tumor he’d found was benign.
“He’d told me the news before I arrived,” Ejiogu said. “But I still wanted to see him. I wanted to extend my appreciation, have a follow up exam and ease my mind. I’m at that stage right now.”
While in the United States, Ejiogu also spent time with family members who live here including his children and three sisters before returning Oct. 20 to Liberia.