When nurse practitioner Angela Okotie-Eboh’s childhood friend died of a massive heart attack in her home country of Nigeria, Angela reacted with sorrow and determination. Her friend’s death could have been prevented with basic medical care, so Angela began a practical campaign to help prevent substandard medical care in places like Nigeria. The friend was the same age as Angela, only 42 years old, and her senseless death really hit home. For Angela, where she now lives in the U.S., a place where people often take their medical care for granted, and in her birthplace of Africa, where people in remote locales don’t even have Tylenol to relieve pain.
Healing and Hope
“I had access to medications and supplies and the knowledge to help,” Angela says, “so I put these together to do something good.” In 2004, Angela founded Heart and Health Ministries International. The interdenominational non-profit organization delivers healing and hope to the poor and downtrodden in developing nations. As co-pastor of Ark Fellowship Church in Cypress with her husband, Goodluck Okotie-Eboh, it was a natural fit to reach out with mission work. The first medical trip was to Nigeria early in 2005 where 15 local medical practices contributed. “As a Nigerian, I know how to navigate the system,” Angela says. “But God gave us favor to get the help in.”
The ministry brought in basic supplies to set up health stations. People came from near and far to receive care. Angela talks of one young man who walked for miles and weighed less than 100 pounds. His blood sugar was over 500. They injected the man with insulin and saw the life come back into his body. “He hadn’t been diagnosed until then and was saved,” Angela says with disbelief. Ongoing treatment can be difficult in such situations, but a Nigerian doctor was returning to the country and took the man under his care, where he is thriving today.
The team makes three to four trips each year, expanding their aid to new locations while still returning to old ones. On a trip to an isolated village, Angela heard screams coming from the bushes. There, a 4-year-old child was shrieking and convulsing in a seizure. The child had a fever of 104 degrees. The team administered antibiotics, and within two hours, his temperature fell. “So many little medical things become significant when they aren’t addressed properly, but we can help,” Angela says.
Using Health to Reach the Heart
The initial drive of Heart and Health Ministries was to supply pharmaceuticals and medical attention, but their scope soon expanded. The organization supports orphans and children, the helpless, sick and abandoned elders, and also offers pastoral care. “Medical missions and evangelism are our heartbeat,” Angela says.
Administrative coordinator Thresa Johnson agrees. “We use the health aspect to reach the heart in our spiritual mission. By establishing communication through medical means, we work hand-in-hand with people.”
Thresa has accompanied Heart and Health Ministries on nearly every trip abroad and handles the practicalities on both ends. This includes, but isn’t limited to, receiving pharmaceutical donations from medical charities, breaking down bulk volumes into weekly, monthly, or yearly prescribed amounts, shipping supplies ahead of time, and arranging transportation of the medical supplies to different locations.
Thresa is motivated both by her opportunities in the U.S. and the chance to help others. “Until you experience something outside America, you don’t understand the world. Others have a hard physical life,” she says. “And we can make a big difference in small, simple ways.”
We Must Give Back
Since its inception, Heart and Health Ministries has extended its reach to the Philippines, as well as places closer to home. “There is laughter and joy in relieving pain,” Angela says. “It is more blessed to give than to receive; and when we are blessed with so much, we must give much back.” In the small town of Calvert, TX, between Dallas and College Station, the ministry is exploring different ways to help rural kids, by distributing meal programs and backpacks.
Heart and Health Ministries’ multi-disciplinary team also has grown from doctors and nurses to include dentists, pharmacists, public health educators, nutritionists, social workers, counselors, and medical research scientists. An expansion of services will continue with quarterly checkups and by making consistent medical supplies available to patients on the ground. Another goal is to do more through Telemedicine, where ultrasounds performed in one country can be read by physicians in another, and treatment can be administered right away.
Each Person Is Worth Saving
In her private practice, Angela helps the mentally ill, the physically handicapped, and the elderly, and her passion to bring positive change to developing countries is as strong as ever. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by so much need everywhere, especially in the mission field, but Angela says, “Each person is worth saving.” CFM
Want to Help?
All the care provided by Heart and Health Ministries is free to recipients, but shipping medical supplies overseas is costly – from $500,000 to upwards of $1,000,000. To donate, visit heartandhealthministries.org