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Ugandan Software Engineer Turns Grief Into Grace, Builds State Of The Art Hospital

Ruth Gaylord Hospital

About six miles north of Kampala city, along Bombo Road, in Maganjo-Kawempe, Wakiso District, there’s an imposing housing facility that has left tongues waging.

However, this facility isn’t a housing condominium, but a modern hospital called Ruth Gaylord Hospital that offers a wide range of services including but not limited to laboratory, ultrasound, dental, maternity and neonatal.

Charles Lugemwa, a Software Engineer at Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) is the brain behind this hospital.

Like celebrated entrepreneurs, Lugemwa turned a challenge into an opportunity. The idea to start a hospital was born after he lost a daughter to shoddy medical services by one of the hospitals in Kampala.

When the child developed a fever, like caring parents, Lugemwa and his wife, Maria, a veterinarian to one of the medical facilities they assumed was well equipped.

However, a nurse turned up with an injection which was not meant for the girl, administered it and in the process the innocent soul died.

After losing his little daughter over the fatal mistake by a medical worker, Lugemwa who had no previous medical field interest, turned grief into grace, growing one of Uganda’s best equipped hospitals in metropolitan Kampala.

Lugemwa, a software engineer graduate from the University of St Thomas in Minnesota partnered with Father Dennis Dease, then the President of the University of St Thomas to see this health facility come to life.

Lugemwa says the lady who made the seed donation to build this hospital, was healed from cancer.

Charles Lugemw the brain behind Ruth Gaylord Hospital/Watchdog photo

The beginning

Its story started way back in 2007 with a dream of building a chain of Hope Medical Clinics Uganda where treatment could be accessed.

First clinic was in Ndejje area and the second, in Kasubi. The clinics gave way to Ruth Gaylord Hospital named after a retired Minnesota music teacher.

The name was a suggestion by Msgr. James Habiger, former executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, who made the initial seed donation in memory of his friend Ruth Gaylord, who was battling cancer at the time. Lugemwa says by God’s grace, Mrs Gaylord was healed from cancer and attended the unveiling of the hospital in March 2013.

Ruth Gaylord Hospital has professional and dedicated medical personnel

“Ruth Gaylord Hospital provides affordable healthcare to patients who under normal circumstances might never access such service. To the worst, be left to die because they cannot afford a right diagnosis, and treatment,” Lugemwa says, adding that the hospital’s mission is to provide self-sustaining, affordable and equitable community-based health care services through a dedicated and professional workforce.

The Future

Lugemwa and Fr Dease have since registered a nonprofit in US, called Friends of East Africa Foundation through which they mobilize funds and equipment, for Hope Medical Clinics Uganda, the vehicle through which the hospital is run.

Among the interventions include Ruth Gaylord hospital being affiliated to the University of Minnesota Medical School through which annual free surgeries by American surgeons are made. Last year, at least 41 life saving surgeries were carried out.

Lugemwa says this has enabled them to build capacity including knowledge transfer and having the latest medical technology at the hospital because these medical personnel donate the equipment they work with after the free surgeries.

The other program is about creating value for families who fund different units at the hospital in memory of their loved ones.

Several people have donated blocks and equipment in memory of their loved ones including Tom Bisanz, who gave a grant to build the Outpatient block in memory of his mother, Helen Bisanz. The other is Susan Shawlbach who honored her mother with the Jane Annstrome block which houses the Maternity department which she also equipped including the labour suite. Mr Shawlback who Lugemwa refers to as Sue, also built a chapel at the hospital where the patients and staff get spiritual nourishment.

Gary Holmes is another benefactor. He is an entrepreneur who funded the storied building which accommodates visiting medical surgeons and it has rooms for private patients who can afford medical services at the market rate.

Lugemwa explains that the money helps to cater for those people who come in and they afford pay. The Gary Holmes building also houses the Neonatal ICU, which was generously donated by Dr Eric Kylar the President Emeritus of the University of Minnesota in honor of his wife on her birthday.

Ruth Gaylord Hospital was born after Lugemwa lost his daughter

Endowment fund

Lugemwa spoke about the endowment fund as one of the solutions to ensure continuity and sustainability.

“The fund helps us subsidize the cost of treatment for patients who cannot afford,” he says, adding: “The other funds help us replace equipment when we cannot fundraise.”

Lugemwa adds that through the endowment fund resources are used to create and build assets for future funding of the hospital in case donors don’t come through.

The resources have enabled them to build a three block apartments project which has two-bedroom suites aimed at generating resources. These resources will be kept in the endowment fund for future use.

The land on which the entire project was built is a lease from the Archdiocese, thanks to the Archbishop of Kampala Dr Cyprian Kizito Lwanga.

Background

Lugemwa met Father Dennis Dease at University of St Thomas Minnesota, where he was a software engineering master’s degree scholar. Fr Dease was the university president.

The old boy of St Henry’s Kitovu in Masaka graduated from Makerere University with a Bachelor’s of Statistics in 1997. He later got a scholarship at the University of St Thomas in Minnesota to study Software engineering. He graduated in 2003 and returned to Kampala. However, the US Catholic institution has helped him light a candle for many.

After returning to Uganda, Lugemwa continued to host a number of St Thomas current and past students in Uganda, and has been instrumental in connecting local students, especially from St. Henry’s Kitovu to scholarships at this university.

At some point, these contacts donated the first school bus to the school through Lugemwa who delivered it personally on the visitation day.

The story which started with a loss has now become a blessing for many people.

Ruth Gaylord has become a low-cost hospital which offers world class medical services from diagnosis to treatment to surgeries.

With a team of dedicated doctors, this hospital treats over 2,000 patients a month at low cost of medication. These medications are reserved elsewhere for the A-List of this country who can afford expensive treatment at upscale facilities in Kampala or out of the country.

-Additional reporting by Watchdog

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