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  OBITUARY  

November 25 - December 01, 2011

 

 Coastweek   Kenya


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Tribute To Late Doctor 'Jo' Okanga

HE MADE A HUGE CONTRIBUTION TO WELL BEING
OF SO MANY PEOPLE IN AFRICA AND THE COAST
 

Coastweek-- Joseph Bhoe Otieno Okanga was born in 1936 in Kitale.

He attended his early schooling at Sector Madungu School before proceeding briefly to Got Osimbo School , and finally completing his primary school education at Musanda School , where he would later return to teach.

He proceeded to the Government African School , Kakamega, for secondary school, where he did his Cambridge School Certificate.

He passed with distinction, scoring 9 points.

By all accounts, Joseph was a bright student and was one of the leading light of his time.

Therefore it came as no surprise when he was admitted to Makerere University Eastern Africa.

Actually the Forest Service had wanted him to join as a Forestry Officer; on the other hand, the Armed Forces wanted to send him to Sandhurst for military training.

Coastweek-- Late Dr. J. B. O. Okanga.

His admission to Makerere looked as though it would be derailed by the British government’s decision to commit its allocation of Makerere student education bursary funds towards the Queen’s state visit to Uganda .

However Joe’s mother refused to allow him to even contemplate being either a Forestry Officer or a soldier, and so he began the patient wait for admission to Makerere University .

Whilst awaiting admission to Makerere, Joseph and his brother Albert went off to work on a coffee farm in Endebess.

While they were away, Joseph’s admission to Makerere came through, but he could not be traced at his parent’s home.

After what was essentially a manhunt, he was found in Endebess and the British Administration sent a government Land Rover to pick them up and return them to Uholo for identity verification by the local chief and his parents.

His being admitted to Makerere was an event in itself; it also was the beginning of his realization that his decision to study medicine was truly a calling.

Following this sequence of events he finally entered Makerere, from where he graduated with a degree in medicine in 1966.

By this time Joseph’s Uholo roots had been built upon, and he began to form new friendships with people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, races and cultures.

He was truly a warm, loyal, dependable and trustworthy person, for whom an initial friendship formed was sure to last a lifetime.

During his time at Kenyatta National Hospital as an intern, Joseph met the love of his life, Rebecca Caroline Mukhwana Malimba, whom he married on 31st December, 1966 .

They were blessed with a son, Michael Okanga, followed a year later by Sheila Okanga.

Joe began working as a doctor, not only at Kenyatta National Hospital , but in all parts of Kenya ranging from Mombasa to Kiambu to Mandera.

Joseph had found his true calling in the care and healing of people.

He left for Scotland with his young family to further extend his medical qualifications at Edinburgh University on a World Health Organization scholarship.

The family lived in Scotland as Joseph pursued his post graduate medical studies towards membership of the Royal College of Physicians between 1971 and 1972.

He became a fellow in 1974.

Joe, Becky, Michael and Sheila returned to Kenya in 1972 and initially settled in Nairobi .

However after the Scottish cold, he was not about to settle in the cold of the Kenyan highlands, so after only one month in Nairobi, he moved his family to Mombasa where they lived in the house that is now the Swahili Cultural Center, next to Mombasa hospital.

The hospital was then called Katherine Bibi Hospital and it was there, in January 1973, that Becky and Joe welcomed their third child Nereah.

Nairobi ’s loss was Mombasa ’s emphatic gain, as we were all to see and experience over the next four decades.

Joseph began his career at the coast as the Provincial Physician.

This was the start of his illustrious career at the coast, and also as a pillar of the Mombasa community.

Joe did not just focus on his work, but dedicated time to his family and to the community.

Around this time began what would become a revolving door of foster parenting the children of those near and dear to him, as well as friends of his children, and even total strangers who were in need of food and shelter.

Many are they who will tell you of the few days, or weeks, or years, or a lifetime that they lived in the Okanga family home.

It was also around this time that Joe’s life as a Rotarian began. He joined the Rotary Club in 1973, becoming Chairman of the Rotary Club, Mombasa branch in 1977.

He was a member until his death.

His dedication and work-life balance was evidenced by the fact that around this time he was also a founding member of the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board of Kenya in 1973, and was also the Chairman of the Kenyan Medical Association in 1977.

In 1974, he left government to set up private practice as a Consultant Physician specializing in Internal Medicine.

By this time, he had become the preferred medical consultant for many residents of Mombasa , not only because of his great knowledge and skill as a medical practitioner, but also due to his caring nature and commitment to patients.

Despite the heavy work demands of these years, Joseph was a committed family man.

He soon welcomed Keziah and Sharon into the world.

By this time Joe’s international reputation as a top physician had grown and he attended and presented papers at several local and international conferences on medical and rotary related subjects.

This led to him spending a year in 1977/ 1978 as a visiting lecturer of Medicine at the Groote Schuur Teaching Hospital of the University of Cape Town .

This attachment enabled him to work with the famed Dr. Christian Barnard in treating a patient with heart disease.

The patient was in fact, the first black man in apartheid South Africa to receive a transplant of a heart from a white person.

At the time this was very widely reported by the international media as a breakthrough in medicine. 

Even with his international recognition and accomplishments, he continued his diligent commitment to his local obligations.

Joseph was a visiting Consultant Physician to the leading Mombasa hospitals, including the Aga Khan Hospital, Mombasa Hospital and Pandya Memorial Hospital .

In addition, he also served as Medical Director at the Aga Khan Hospital, as well as being a member and Director of Mombasa Hospital Association.

These accomplishments, though great and impressive, are not exhaustive. Joseph was also:

• National Vice Chairman , Kenya Diabetes Association

• Branch Chairman, Coast Province , Kenya Diabetes Association

• Vice Chairman, Africa Region, International Diabetes Federation (1995-1998)

• Member, International Diabetes Federation

• Member by special invitation, American Diabetes Federation

Member , Kenya Medical Association

Member , Kenya Cardiac Association

Member , Kenya Association of Physicians

• Overseas member, British Medical Association

• Medical member, Legal Task Force on HIV and AIDS pandemic in Kenya

He gave back to the youth, mentoring and being a role model to them in his capacity as Chairman and member of the board of governors of Star of the Sea Secondary School , and in the past, being a member of the board of governors of Shimo-La-Tewa Secondary School , Waa Secondary School , Got Osimbo Secondary School and Madungu Secondary School .

Throughout the years Joe was diligent in keeping abreast of medical advances and used to read, write and visit with other medical practitioners continuously.

He thus stayed at the top of his profession throughout the years.

He was also the overseas external tutor for Master’s degrees and post-graduate diplomas in Clinical Pharmacy for Queen’s University, Belfast .

Up until 1998, he had been an editorial peer reviewer for the East African Medical Journal and was a contributing writer to the book “Hypertension in Africa ”.

Tragically in 2004, Becky passed away.

This was a huge blow to Joe and his children.

However, following this loss, his faith in God was renewed.

His children, his community, friends and his work also helped him persevere during this time.

The energy of the man was astonishing as he would always rise before dawn and set out for work before the sun had barely risen. He almost always worked throughout his lunch hour.

He would ensure that he spent time with family, friends and community members after work hours and on weekends.

On the weekend of 8th October, he had hosted friends to a celebration lunch for a relative who had recently been appointed a judge of the High Court.

The function was very well attended and guests found him in good spirits and appearing well.

As was his custom, he exchanged jokes with his guests and gave them each a hearty embrace as they departed.

On the night of Monday 10th October, 2011 , Joseph came home from work and as was his habit, relaxed with his family, exchanging news of the day in conversation and planning for the morrow.

On the morning of the 11th October, he woke up early to go to work and appeared well.

However as he went through his morning routine he suddenly fell unconscious in his bedroom.

Not surprisingly, it took some time for anybody to realize that something was wrong.

By the time attention was drawn to his delay in leaving for work it was too late; he was rushed to the nearest medical facility by family members, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

And so a great man lived, fulfilled his life’s work, and went to be with his maker.  

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From Coastweek issue 3441: October 14 - 20, 2011

Mombasa Will Miss
Doctor 'Joe' Okanga

he was a great philanthropist and rendered his
time and energy serving the less fortunate

Coastweek -- It was with profound sadness I learnt about the demise of Dr J. B Okanga.

Daktari as I preferred calling him was more than a friend since I joined the Rotary Club of Mombasa in early 2000 where he had been a member for more than 30 years.

He was indeed an exempt member where your age and the number of years served in Rotary exceeded 80 years. Despite his age he was always there for rotary and Rotary friends.

He was also my personal physician and many a times he will make ease up whenever I went to see him for any health matter that was troubling me and he will always ask me if I ever go on holiday.

I recall every visit to his clinic was more than just a doctor’s visit since he will catch up on how the hotel industry and my family are getting on.

The long queues at his clinic were enough testimony that many trusted his safe hands.

Today Mombasa has been left poorer by his demise.

Dr Okanga will truly be missed by very many people at the Kenya coast.

He was a very well trusted doctor and anytime you ask him about a patient he will tell you that he will do what he can but the one who decides is up there pointing up with his figure.

Daktari despite not keeping well in recent times was always available for his patients, true one day we shall all have a date with death.

Dr Okanga was a great philanthropist and he will render his time and energy serving the less fortunate and for certain many people will miss his caring healing hands.

He equally spent a lot of time addressing diabetics and how best to deal with it.

He was a doctor who will never fail to pick your call no matter what time of the day or night you called him unless his phone was switched off.

I will miss his magic smile whenever I walked into his clinic and may the lord rest his soul in eternal peace. Fare thee well daktari

Mohammed Hersi, Mombasa .

Mohammed.Hersi@sarovahotels.com

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