Tenwek New Oncology Unit

New Oncology Unit: A Priority for Tenwek Hospital and FOT

New service will provide coordinated, comprehensive care for patients with cancer

For decades, Tenwek Hospital has been unable to meet the critical medical needs of cancer patients. This is not unusual in a nation that is still developing medical systems and solutions that can be delivered in rural and remote regions. But addressing the need for earlier detection, proper diagnosis, and effective treatment of multiple kinds of cancer has become a top priority for Tenwek Hospital leaders. The commitment to provide oncology services reflects their dedication to maintaining the hospital’s designation as a Christian teaching and referral hospital at the highest level.

John Spriegel, M.D., a long-time missionary doctor at Tenwek, knows first-hand the critical need to add a comprehensive oncology service. “While Tenwek has become a referral hospital in many medical specialties for much of Western Kenya, we are also referring out two cancer patients each day. Some of these patients can handle the travel and expense of seeking treatment in Nairobi. But most, in fact, go home and die. And, like many of our patients, those who come to us with cancer need the spiritual touch of Christ’s healing ministry and not just the medicines we that we have to offer.”

Development of a Dedicated Oncology Unit is Underway

“Tenwek’s Oncology Unit will usher in a new era of outpatient oncology care,” continues Dr. Spriegel. “It will be the only service of its kind in the region to offer coordinated cancer care that encompasses diagnosis and treatment for a range of cancers.”

The new Oncology Unit will be established in two phases. Renovations are underway in an existing building to transform it into a patient-centered, hygienic area that promotes comfort, dignity, and privacy for individuals receiving chemotherapy treatments. The building improvements include floor tiling, painting, new wiring for electrical outlets and computer stations, enhanced lighting, and additional outside doors.

When renovations are complete, the building will feature examination and administration rooms for chemotherapy, offices for clinicians, and specialized areas for processing, storing, and preparing treatments. The medical equipment and furnishings purchased to launch this new service – including a chemotherapy hood – will be moved to the Oncology Unit’s permanent location in the Steury Building when expansion and renovations there are completed in several years.

Tenwek’s financial and staffing plan will ensure the unit’s sustainability. Two clinical officers with higher diplomas in oncology care currently are on staff at Tenwek. The hospital’s head pharmacist has advanced training in chemotherapy medications. Additional oncology nursing training and consultation services are being developed with colleagues at another Kenyan teaching and referral hospital.

The cost to open the phase one version of the Oncology Unit is $182,000 USD. This includes renovation expenses, specialized treatment equipment, and furnishings.

Recognizing both the need to offer cancer care and Tenwek Hospital’s commitment to adding this critical new service, Friends of Tenwek has made the Oncology Unit one of its top fundraising priorities for 2019. FOT is committed to raise $91,000 – half of the necessary funds.

Your gift today in support of the Oncology Unit will extend life and hope to patients with cancer and ensure that Tenwek’s exceptional medical and spiritual care will be delivered in this new specialty area for years to come. You can make a gift here.


Dr. Russell White Receives $500,000 Award in Recognition of His Work at Tenwek

Russell E. White, MD, FACS, MPH, chief of surgery and surgery residency director at Tenwek Hospital, has been named the recipient of The L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Missionary Service. The $500,000 award funds will be used at Tenwek to train cardiac surgeons in heart valve repairs and for the treatment of esophageal cancer, tuberculosis, and other chronic diseases. It  also will pay for ultrasound screenings and antibiotics for local students to prevent strep infections from causing heart damage.Read the NY Times story here.

Dr White was previously honored by the American College of Surgeons (ACS) with the 2012 Surgical Humanitarian Award.

Dr. White, a member of the Tenwek staff since 1997, specializes in esophageal cancer, the most common malignancy in Kenya. His expertise – which includes a caseload of approximately 2,000 patients and extensive research on the etiology, screening, and treatment of the disease – has helped Tenwek become the busiest center in Kenya for the palliative and curative treatment of esophageal cancer.

Roberts Family

Sharing the Light, Restoring Vision

FOT is pleased to begin a new feature that introduces you to the medical missionary families whose service and leadership at Tenwek Hospital and beyond truly exemplifies the founding mission of the hospital. We begin this series with a profile of the Roberts family.

Dr. Ben Roberts first visited Tenwek Hospital in 1998 as a medical student. After completing his residency in ophthalmology and a fellowship in vitreo-retinal surgery in 2006, he and his wife, Jenny, moved to Kenya to serve as medical missionaries at Tenwek through World Gospel Mission. The family – which includes their three young sons – lives out their ministry motto, Sharing the Light, Restoring Vision at the hospital, in a local church and orphanage, and through eye clinics in remote parts of East Africa.

Dr. Roberts provides medical and surgical care to adults and children suffering from a wide range of eye diseases and injuries. He shares and multiplies his expertise through academic and clinical instruction to residents, clinicians, and nurses at Tenwek. He also has led numerous medical missionary teams that bring eye treatments and surgery to remote areas in Eastern Africa where such medical care is unavailable. (See related story.)

Central to Dr. Roberts’ approach to patient care is sharing the Person, presence, and power of Jesus Christ – the Light of the world. In nearly a decade of service, hundreds of people have received sight-restoring treatments and surgeries and have come to know, love, and trust Jesus Christ.

Dr. Roberts’ arrival in 2006 coincided with Tenwek’s plan to construct a new eye and dental facility on the hospital campus to meet the every-growing needs in these areas. He became a passionate advocate for the project. Though architectural plans for the new building were developed in 2009, construction was delayed. In 2013, there was only one operating theater available for eye surgeries and Dr. Roberts led an ophthalmology team that regularly scheduled three simultaneous eye surgeries to maximize use of the available space. “It makes for good accountability and jovial fellowship during long days,” he noted at the time, while hopefully anticipating that construction could begin as soon as local approvals were received.

Construction of the eye and dental facility began in April 2014. Phase I of the project will be completed in April 2016, with the completion of Phase II probable by the end of 2016.

Jenny is a valued member of the greater Tenwek community, teaching children’s Sunday School, working in orphanage outreach in Bomet, and providing the ministry of hospitality in the Roberts’ home. Their sons Luke, Isaac, and Nate participate in local church activities and accompany their parents to the outreach clinics where they serve together as a family.

The Roberts’ dedication to the people of Kenya and the mission of Tenwek Hospital is a powerful example of the life-changing impact that Christian faith and sacrificial love can make in the world. Please pray for them as they continue to serve.


Meet Rev. Dean Cowles: New Friends of Tenwek Field Director

Rev. Dean Cowles and Dr. Cheryl Cowles returned to Tenwek in October 2015 after serving there as full-time medical missionaries with three small boys in the early 90’s. God opened the door for the Cowles to come as short-term volunteers in 2014.

“When we were here in the 90s, it was just a few American missionary doctors,” recalls Cheryl, an OB/GYN physician. “When we came back in 2014, I was amazed and delighted to see so many wonderful Kenyan doctors in charge and being trained in advanced medical fields. It touched my heart to entertain the idea of coming back full-time to help Dr. Joy Draper start an OB/GYN residency.”

Dean adds, “On our first day in 2014 I saw Rev. David Kilel who was my co-worker 20 years earlier when we started the Tenwek Chaplaincy School. I was delighted to hear that it was still going strong. Later that day I met Rev. Elijah Bii, Spiritual Director for Tenwek and Pastor of Bethesda Church located inside the hospital. We had started that over 20 years ago as a way to offer English worship services for our non- Kipsigis staff. He remembered me while he was attending Tenwek Boys High School during those years where I served as the school chaplain, and now he is the pastor of the church we planted! I love how God does that.”

When Dean and his son Solomon, who was born at Tenwek in 1991, came with Cheryl in 2014 as short-term, non-medical volunteers, he saw a need for helping other non-medical spouses and family members discover significant ways to help out in the hospital and community. So when they returned last October, Dean volunteered to serve as the first Field Director for Friends of Tenwek.

“It’s been a real joy to dive into all the various ways non-medical visitors can help out around here,” says Dean. “I love meeting new people and helping them match their gifts, talents, and interests with the many programs, outreaches and volunteer needs we have at the hospital and in the surrounding communities. I hope those thinking of coming will not say, ‘Well I’m not a doctor so I don’t have anything to offer and will just let my spouse go and I’ll stay home’. We have lots of things you and your family can do to make a difference. But most of all, coming on a short-term mission trip will make a difference in you.”


Meet the Burgerts: Using Their Gifts to Administer God’s Grace

In 2008, on the plane ride home from Kenya, Steve and Alene Burgert concluded together than God was calling them to full-time mission service at Tenwek Hospital. Just two years earlier, Steve had believed that his area of medical expertise – gastroenterology – wasn’t needed in the mission field because of the highly specialized equipment required. However, a colleague told him about Tenwek and after their first month-long service mission in 2006, Steve felt he had fulfilled his “duty.”

The unmistakable call came during their second short-term visit to the hospital – and they haven’t looked back.

The Burgert’s second trip occurred during a period of post-election violence and turmoil in Kenya. “It was an extremely stressful time for everyone, but we were impressed with the Christ-centered focus of the missionaries and nationals at Tenwek through those challenges,” recalls Alene. “We also experienced the Lord’s presence and faithfulness in ways that we never had before. We both grew spiritually during that time, and felt drawn to pursue a direction which would require developing even more trust in the Lord – and Kenya seemed to be the new direction that the Lord was showing us.”

Today, as Tenwek’s Director of Endoscopy Services, Steve provides direct patient care, trains Kenyan interns and residents, conducts GI tract malignancy research, and disciples his department staff. Kenya has an extremely high rate of esophageal and gastric cancers; hospital staff performs over 2,000 endoscopies each year and insert more than 300 esophageal stents annually for palliation of inoperable esophageal cancer. These allow patients to eat and swallow, prolonging and improving their lives for months to years. It would not be an exaggeration to say that during his tenure at Tenwek, Steve has treated more people with esophageal cancer than anyone else in Africa!

Though Alene had been a full-time prison chaplain employed by the State of Colorado Department of Corrections, she was not sure what her work in Kenya would be. But when she was asked by the pastor in charge of Tenwek’s School of Chaplaincy if she would teach a class on prison ministry, she knew God had revealed His plan. After discovering that only one pastor – from a town two hours away – was visiting area prisons, Alene saw the need to work with him to develop a correctional ministry.

What began as initial, tentative prison visits gained miraculous momentum. Though faced with many hurdles, Alene, the School of Chaplaincy, and surrounding churches have formed the Correctional Ministry of Kenya. The ten Kenyan chaplains all have a connection with Tenwek –seven were trained at the School of Chaplaincy and three were trained by graduates. They have visited over 30 men’s and women’s prisons in Western Kenya and hold weekly discipleship programs in 15 prisons.

Sharing the gospel with the prisoners has transformed prisoner conduct in such a dramatic way that prison officers and administrators have become the biggest advocates of the program. National officials in Nairobi have heard of this impact in prisons in Western Kenya have asked if the Correctional Ministry can be expanded to more prisons in Kenya.

Steve and Alene are guided by the admonition in 1Peter 4:10: Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

“It is a joy to see endoscopy team members sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and Bibles with patients and their families,” says Steve. “It is a blessing to see more and more trained endoscopists as we continue to strive to have national Kenyans assume more of our responsibilities as we ‘work ourselves out of a job’! Our faith continues to deepen as we witness the Lord’s faithfulness and provision for advancing His kingdom.”