ONE ON ONE WITH Dr. WAFULA NALWA
Full Name: Dr. Wafula Nalwa
(MBChB (UON),Mmed (UON) Mmed Cert Echocardiography(UoN), Cert Helthcare Leadership (Yonsei University, South Korea), Cert in Diabetology, (Salsburg)
Date of birth: 05/07/1977
Private practice: moyocentre.co.ke
Current residence: Kisumu, Kenya
Current employer: Maseno University
Contacts: +2547 3155 5212/0724082614
Dr. Wafula Nalwa alias ‘Omwami’ (Luhya for Leader) is not a stranger.
The dark skinned, spectacled doctor standing at about 5’6 and walking with a signature limp is a diminutive but ever present figure. He is often quiet, yet is quite perceptive.
Dr Wafula sometimes comes through as being too focused on something on his mind, nearly arrogant in his pursuit of clearly defined goals.
He runs his Kisumu Heart Centere from Optimum Medical Plaza in the quiet Tom Mboya Estate, from where he says, he is able to pursue standard care for his cardiac patients.
Dr. Wafula is currently an employee of Maseno University as an Internal Medicine lecturer. His students describe him as passionate and fatherly: “He always starts every lecture with an illustrated story and always has a motivational word of advice.”
The students also allude to his strictness in the clinical area. He emphasizes that clinical rotations make or break the would be doctor. You hear them whisper, “You better be certain you are on time, have clerked and examined the patient, and you have heard what he has heard on the stethoscope.”
Also speaking to theDoctor, one of his nurses at his Kisumu Heart Center described him as “a no nonsense man” in clinical work yet a very good and passionate teacher. “He strives to ensure everyone understands their role and place in the practice. He dislikes pushing people, or reminding people to do their work. He has no time for those who are drifting.”
theDoctor got a chance to have a one on one chat with the easy going doctor in his office and a lot was brought to light.
His office is outstanding.
Very eye catching.
You see a strategically and well thought out arrangement of his room with an ECG machine and an Echo machine. They quickly communicate, passion, knowledge, skills and quality care.
Dr. Wafula’s work top is decorated with models of the heart and blood vessels. He says, “adults learn best by seeing, hearing illustrations and creating mental pictures. It helps build trust and confidence in the ability of the doctor to offer them service”
To his left are his tools of trade, “that’s how an echo machine looks like!” I exclaimed as I took a seat, “I have never seen one before.” Just that was enough to earn me a free lesson on how the machine works with a real patients result for explanation. A real passion for teaching, don’t you think?
This is how it went down.
Childhood and early life
theDoctor: Would you please tell me about your childhood?
Dr. Wafula: (smiling) well I was born in Butula Sub county in Busia County. My parents were newly married, newly employed teachers at the present day Butula Boys National School. They later moved to Bunyore girls High school then known as “the pearl of western” .Then they went to St Peters Mumias Boys High School in Mumias. We settled in Bungoma in the late 90s
I went to Kima Primary School in Bunyore land, then St Peters Mumias Boys Primary School in Mumias. For high school education, I went to Alliance Alliance High School and then proceeded to study Medicine at the University of Nairobi.
theDoctor: Did you always know that you wanted to become a doctor?
Dr. Wafula: No. Growing up I wanted to be a lawyer, liked debating. But there came a time in Kenya when law wasn’t as noble as it is now. There was a period that was characterized by a lot of fraud, with many advocates being deregistered by the LSK for misconduct and in particular theft of clients’ money.
Then one day as I was about to sit my fourth form in 1994, I saw on the news that there was a boy who had cardiac problems and was suffering because no one in Kenya could treat him. It touched me and at that point, I decided to be the one who helped such boys. So I chose to study medicine, to treat heart problems.
theDoctor: So is that where your love for cardiac medicine started?
Dr. Wafula: Yes. Cardiology is the reason I took up medicine as a career. In fact, in undergraduate I was known by the nick name ‘cardiovascular Wafula.’
theDoctor: So, how was it like for you in medical school?
Dr. Wafula: It wasn’t bad, I enjoyed it. There were tough moments but I managed to go through successfully. I was always a devoted Christian and a member of the CMDA. (that’s where I met my wife). We hit it off washing dishes during a joint retreat in Naivasha with Moi University School of Medicine Christian Union. I was Vice Chair of the Christian Union.
theDoctor: What was your first car?
Dr. Wafula: I’ve always loved cars. As a kid I remember telling my mother that I will own many cars. I bought my first car in 2004, after my internship it was a 1972 404 Peugeot. At that time it was called “Olwenda”. Courted my wife in it and got married in December 2005.
After that, I had a few others, a Toyota corolla 110 then a Toyota corolla, G touring. I have had two different X trails separated by a Toyota Voxy, a Mitsubishi Pajero, a Mercedes Benz E class, Nissan Datsun and a Toyota Kluger: too many cars for a young man.(smilling)
I am now on a go slow regarding cars, focusing on other things.
theDoctor: Where did you start your medical practice?
Dr. Wafula: After my undergraduate I was posted right here at JOOTRH for internship in 2002.
JOOTRH, Russia as it was called then was like a furnace, you would either get smelted and molded or you burnt up. I finished that period and went to work at the Kisumu District Hospital. I was the only medical officer there for some time before I was joined by Dr. Okiri Leah, currently an obstetrician.
In 2006, I moved to Nairobi for my masters studies. During that period I worked with various cardiologists who helped focus my passion.
During my Masters, I was Chief Resident in Internal Medicine and even led a strike to push for updated curricula, examination methods and better terms for post graduate students. I remember standing up to Prof Magoha and asking him to reform the school of medicine to his utter dismay.
theDoctor: Then how did you find your way back to Kisumu.
Dr. Wafula: In 2010, I was posted as a senior registrar in Internal Medicine after my Masters studies. I decided to come back closer home to serve our very needy people.
So I came back to JOOTRH and had the previledge of starting the renal unit and a consistent daily diabetic clinic managed in an evidence based manner. I really wanted to start a cardiac unit but the hospital was not yet ready because of the HIV focus at the time. My heart was always in cardiology though.
To grant me opportunity to explore my interests and passion for cardiology, I started my own private practice called Afya Center and there I could do real time ECGs, cardiology related lab work and real time treatment of my patients.
On my transfer to Migori, I sold the Afya Centre Kisumu and started another in Migori, it was hugely successful, with great impact in the region, all the way to Mwanza, Musoma, Bukoba in Tanzania.
theDoctor: tell me about Migori.
Dr. Wafula: Well, I worked at Migori County Referrral Hospital as a Consultant Physician. I became the Medical Superintendent in 2014 then Deputy Director of Health in charge of Clinical Services in the same year. I am glad I left a legacy. I resigned to join Maseno University in 2016.
theDoctor: From Migori back to Kisumu?
Dr. Wafula: Yes. I left Migori and came to Maseno and I’m still here.
Returning to Kisumu, my heart has gone back to my passion, cardiology. I teach it and I practice it.
I believe more is yet to come.
I however feel we’re years late in specialty practice in Kisumu, and this needs to change quickly. This is changing with various doctors’ plazas and specialist units. The frequent doctor’s strikes, hospital closures and poor terms of employment in counties are accelerating this evolution among doctors.
theDoctor: You also had your own hospital.
Dr. Wafula: Yes, I opened my own practice, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, but then I realized it was so basic and common. Everybody was doing it so breaking even and excelling was a challenge.
I decided to make a strategic retreat and come back with a new concept and service. That’s the driver of the Kisumu Heat Centre, Cardiology, where my heart is.
Passion and future plans
Throughout our chart, Dr. Wafula kept talking about and making reference to his patients and the need to have a cardiac center in Kisumu. His love for cardiac medicine was quite obvious.
theDoctor: you obviously have passion towards cardiology. Are you a fully-fledged cardiologist?
Dr. Wafula: No, not yet. But I’m in the process; it shall be, very soon. Doctors learn through apprenticeship. Knowledge is acquired over time, under supervision. I am doing a lot of that presently. Most training areas prefer experienced learners as opposed to green learners.
I’ll be leaving to go for my fellowship in cardiology soon.
I am attending and participating in many thematic trainings for areas of interest under very competent cardiologists; Prof Gerald Yonga formerly of Aga Khan University, Dr Bukachi Fred of The Heart Centre Nairobi and University of Nairobi, Dr Anders Barasa of AKUH,
theDoctor: What are your plans for the future?
Dr. Wafula: A cardiac Center. I want to start a reliable cardiac center in the region, and I have already started. This office right here is the beginning of something much bigger. I’ve been teaching for about two years now but I am still following my dream. That’s why I was even spearheading the May Measurement Month Campaign and the Kisumu Heart Failure regisitry.https://arkse.xyz/may-mesurement-month-in-kisumu/
theDoctor: please tell me about your family.
Dr. Wafula: I am the 1st born in the family of 5 made up of a magistrate, a politician, a pharmacist and a teacher. My parents were both teachers. They are one of my driving forces, encouraging me to be as complete and competent as possible with my own practice because, above all, family is most important. I’ve been managing my grandparents and parents from my first graduation to date.
theDoctor: you’re also a father.
Dr. Wafula: Yes. I’m a father of many through influence in other ways. But have three biological children, a girl, 11 and two boys, 8 and 5. All of them attending school; class 6 at Makini, class 3 and kindergarten at CITAM.
theDoctor: So how do you balance between family and the busy doctor schedule?
Dr. Wafula: (laughing) I have a wonderful wife, so we balance by dividing work. She does a lot at home stuff with the children. I run around. But we also have to create special time for them just to listen to their stories and understand their world especially over meals.
theDoctor: And you are a Christian family
Dr. Wafula: Yes, we are a very devoted Christian family, we all go to church at Citam, here in Kisumu and have devotion as a family before bedtime. I have taught Sunday school fo many years. My wife works with women groups in church.
Likes and hobbies
theDoctor: So what things do you enjoy besides medicine.
Dr. Wafula: I like to travel. I travel a lot and I like to drive especially when I’m with family so we can use the time to talk and bond. But when I’m alone I prefer to go by air. I also enjoy Jazz and Gospel music. And I’m passionate about environmental conservation so I have planted lots of trees.
theDoctor: I’ve also noticed that you are very outspoken on social media.
Dr. Wafula: Yes, I enjoy writing. When I was in school I did poetry and music up to national level. I also like to talk about current affairs and give my opinion on issues.
theDoctor: So, are we going to see you joining politics soon?
Dr. Wafula: No, not really. I can only talk about the issues happening around but I don’t think I will be joining competitive politics ever. However, I’d like to serve the community in other ways. Like mentorship.
theDoctor: You are however in the KMA leadership…
Dr. Wafula: yes, currently i am the KMA secretary, Kisumu Branch
theDoctor: You mentioned Mentorship …
Dr. Wafula: I have done it before with Boys high schools, when I was in South Nyanza and I hope to continue it here in Kisumu after my dream center is set up: I used to go to boys’ schools and mentor them from time to time. I also teach Sunday school.
theDoctor: How is a typical day for you normally?
Dr. Wafula: Normally I wake up at around 6 or 7 to take my kids to school, unless I have a class to prepare for, in which case I can wake up even at 2 or 3 AM. Sometimes I go online and talk to my friends or just sit and think and make my own plans.
My day officially begins at around 9- 10am, I run my daily errands then come to the office. I hardly have lunch. Then I typically go back home at around 7pm,
We have dinner together as family, have devotion and everyone goes to sleep.
theDoctor: What do you like to eat.
Dr. Wafula: My breakfast is normally millet porridge. And I love nuts. I get a one-year supply of groundnuts. I love chapati, pilau and roast meat and chicken.
theDoctor: lastly daktari, most people describe you by your signature limp, how did that happen?
Dr. Wafula: I had polio when I was 2. My mom had gone with me to a funeral as an only child then. I came back with flu like symptoms and later it was discovered to have been polio.
It was a challenge in upper primary and high school where I was made fun off and not understood in terms of limitation of activities. Grew thick skin and now I live fully
I played football as a goal keeper and some basketball even though I kept wishing I could do more. The physical limitation, gave me time to focus on my artistic side, and that is how I found myself exceling in music and poetry.
My chat with Dr. Wafula lasted more than an hour and it was very cheerful and interactive.
His patients, those I found queuing outside his office, told me that he is one of the best doctors they had ever met.
He interacts with them at personal level.
theDoctor wishes Dr, Wafula the best in his endeavors and we pray that his dreams come true.
By Nyadimu Festo