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Farleys help those in need from Kenya to rural West Virginia - Create rural WV medicine support fund

on Thu, 09/13/2007 - 08:00

At 7-foot tall, Gideon Mabeny strikes an imposing figure. The starched uniform he wears as a cadet at Fork Union Military Academy (FUMA) near Charlottesville makes this young Sudanese man look even more impressive.

Gideon, then 17, came to the U.S. from his war-torn homeland in January, 2006 and has been living in the Virginia countryside with Dr. and Mrs. Emerson Farley ever since. FUMA uses the best aspects of the military system. It stresses character development and self-discipline, "by providing an atmosphere in which spiritual, mental, and physical growth can flourish." Dr. Farley is a trustee at FUMA and is Gideon's primary sponsor.

"I'd be delighted," says Farley (WVU '60), if he ends up at WVU!"

A member and deacon at Fort Union Baptist Church, Emerson Farley began West Virginia University as a forestry major but later switched to pre-med, and earned his MD at the University Pittsburgh. Eventually he and wife, Mary Snider Farley, moved to Richmond where the Charleston, WV native completed an internal medicine residency and fellowship in Rheumatology.

After 32 years in private practice, Farley retired but continues "to try to be useful" by providing medical care to patients at the African Inland Mission Hospital in Kijabe, Kenya. The 205-bed general hospital is, by Kenyan standards, pretty well-equipped, enabling Farley and other volunteer physicians to provide a quality of care not available at many locations in Eastern Africa.

To date, Dr. Farley has cared for people from Kenya, nearby Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, and as far away as Egypt. Although most of his hospitalized patients suffered from HIV-AIDS or AIDS related infections, many had diabetes, hypertension, chronic heart failure and other conditions similar to what Farley saw while practicing in Richmond.

Kijabe Hospital is somewhat unique for Kenya. Medical students, interns, and residents from every continent come there for training, which can be a life-changing experience, according to Dr. Farley. "The experiences I had certainly changed my life." Some volunteers stay only a month, others as long as two years, Farley estimates "90% of the staff are volunteers who pay their own way."

On each visit the former WVU student teaches young doctors about the illnesses he knows. They, in turn, teach him about malaria, TB, and other 3rd world illnesses which he hadn't seen first hand until practicing in Kenya. "Maybe some day WVU residents will receive training at Kijabe. They too could experience a life-changing experience as they help those who have so little and whose needs are so great," says Farley.

Another crisis recently caught the Farleys' attention: The shortage of primary care doctors that exists in Africa also exists in much of rural West Virginia. A problem-solver by nature, he and his wife decided to establish The Emerson D. Farley. Jr. M.D. and Mary Snider Farley Rural Medicine Support Fund.

"Mary and I are aware that the health needs in medically underserved areas of Kenya are similar to those that exist in rural West Virginia. Since we have no promise of what the future holds, we just decided to go ahead and do now what we always felt we should have done with our lives, practice in West Virginia.

We hope this fund will encourage young doctors and health care workers to practice in medically underserved areas of our home state," he said, "In this way, perhaps we can return something to the state of our birth. We truly hope other WVU alumni will consider funding projects that they believe will benefit West Virginians."

The Farley Fund, the first of its kind specifically designated for the West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, will help support rural outreach initiatives through the School of Medicine's Eastern Division campus in Martinsburg

Dr. Mitch Jacques, Associate Vice President for the Eastern Division, notes: "The Farleys' commitment to make a difference in their home state is truly commendable. Their gift will be used in conjunction with other programs to recognize and help retain young doctors who have chosen to serve rural populations in West Virginia."

For almost 20 years the WVU School of Medicine has been committing huge resources to creating comprehensive rural medical education programs on all three if its med school campuses and throughout the state.

"The School of Medicine requires all students to participate in rural health care during med school," says Dr. John Prescott , WVU School of Medicine Dean. "And we work hard to recruit our most promising graduates into our residency programs, which pays off in the end for communities all across West Virginia."

And it seems to be working. The majority of this year's 105 WVU med school graduates will focus on primary-care specialties such as family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine.

"Nationally, fewer than eight percent of U.S. medical graduates from the nation's medical schools matched to family medicine programs this year. At WVU, we more than doubled that -- 18 percent. I think this demonstrates that our students are oriented toward the needs of the state and choosing their careers accordingly."