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Tim Rice, M.D., will soon make his fourth trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Article written by Sara Savat from Saint Louis University.

Tim Rice, M.D., leads a double life. For 50 weeks out of every year, he is a doctor and a professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at Saint Louis University where he touches the lives of individuals every day. But for the other two weeks of the year, he is a rock star - at least that's how he's treated by the Congolese community where he has build a self-sustaining medical clinic.

Tim Rice, M.D., is greeted by orphans during his 2008 trip to the Congo.

On June 16, Rice will step back in the spotlight and make his fourth annual trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Returning to the medical clinic he helped build, Rice will put on his CEO hat and collaborate with the clinic's nurse practitioners and community volunteers to address the business side of the clinic - from streamlining practices to promoting the clinic.

While many doctors and health care professionals participate in medical mission trips, what makes Rice's work unique is that his impact continues long after his two-week stay.

"When I'm there my goal is not to see as many patients as possible, but to work with local providers to improve the clinic infrastructure and practices. The idea is to make the clinic sustainable so the community gets the care it needs year round, not just for two weeks," Rice said.

After years of planning, the medical clinic opened its doors to the community in July 2008.

Rice did not initially set out to build a medical clinic. His journey began with a picture of a young Congolese orphan and a simple request for help from his church, New City Fellowship in University City. The boy suffered from spinal scoliosis so severe that he would have died without surgery. Determined to help the boy, Rice enlisted the help of Howard Place, M.D., a SLUCare orthopaedic surgeon at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.

While treating the boy here in St. Louis, Rice began to wonder about the medical challenges the orphan would face when he returned to the Congo.

"I realized that we were going to spend thousands of dollars to get his spine stabilized only to send him back to Africa where he could come down with some treatable disease like malaria. And then, because there is no medical care available, he would die. What kind of a situation is that?" Rice said.

Although the boy was later adopted by an American family, the seed had been planted in Rice who traveled to the Congo that year to access the situation.

Inspired to action, Rice drew on his experience from a medical mission trip in Kenya five years earlier, where he was impressed by their self-sustaining medical clinics.

"When I saw the clinics in Kenya, I though to myself, 'What do you mean you're running a self-sustaining clinic in the slums? We can't even do that in the U.S.,'" Rice said. "But I learned how the clinics could be run utilizing nurse practitioners, church volunteers, a defined scope of practice and low-cost medications. From there, an idea was born."

With more than $10,000 in contributions from the SLU and St. Louis communities, and the help of Congolese churches and community members, Rice's dream of building a self-sustaining medical clinic to serve the Congolese orphans and poor came to fruition two years later.

By keeping overhead costs low and charging clinic patients a small fee to restock supplies and pay the two nurse practitioners' salaries, Rice says the clinic is well on its way to become fully self-sustaining.

While the Congolese treat Rice like a bit of a rock star, he is more modest about his work.

"The Bible talks about sharing your food with others. Everyone has 'food' to share, I am just sharing mine," Rice says.

Rather than getting overwhelmed by the enormity of providing medical care to orphans in a developing country, Rice focuses on taking one step at a time. The next step, he hopes, will be building a second clinic. One step at a time, though.

With low overhead costs and volunteers, even a small contribution can make a big difference. To support the establishment of medical clinics in Congo, mail contributions to New City Fellowship, Attention: Congo Clinic and Orphan Care, 1142 Hodiamont Avenue, St. Louis, MO, 63112.

 


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