After more than 45 years of saving babies’ lives around the globe, Dr. Jim Lemons has become so much more than a physician. He’s a teacher, mentor, bridge-builder, champion for human rights, health advocate, and above all, a story-teller.
A faculty member in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at the IU School of Medicine and a practicing neonatologist at Riley Hospital for Children, Dr. Lemons has so many stories about his work, many of which are linked to photos and paintings in his office.
One photo in particular, however, stands out. The large framed picture has a presence of its own as it hangs on a wall of Dr. Lemons’ office: a young Kenyan boy gazes hopefully in a manner that instills a feeling of connection in everyone that sees him. Dr. Lemons acknowledged the unique pull of this photo in his story at AMPATH-Kenya’s annual Tusker Tales storytelling event, “I showed the photo to my wife, and she suggested a title for it—‘Everyone’s Child’…this little boy told many different stories to those who passed by.”
A few months after displaying this photo in his office, Dr. Lemons met a minister from Eldoret named Joshua Mbithi and his wife, Miriam. The couple had established an orphanage for HIV-positive children and shared this desire for caring for those affected by HIV with Dr. Lemons. After giving them a tour of Riley Hospital, the group sat in Dr. Lemons’ office sharing many personal stories about faith and family. In the midst of emotional reflection, someone else in the room held Joshua’s attention. Dr. Lemons remarked that Joshua’s eyes kept drifting towards the photo of the Kenyan boy and Joshua finally said “That is my son.”
The 6 year old child’s name was Johnston Ambaka, one of Joshua and Miriam’s 27 adopted children that had been HIV-positive but was now being treated with antiretroviral medication for free as part of an AMPATH program. Long after this fateful meeting, Joshua and Miriam continued to stay in touch with Dr. Lemons who visited them and the couple’s now 52 adopted children many times.
This is one of many stories that Dr. Lemons has accumulated in his time of nearly 24 years working with the IU School of Medicine’s partnership in Kenya through the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH). “I got to travel all over Kenya and it was always wonderful—I ended up with a whole new understanding of relationships. Where there’s love, something good always happens and ripples,” he eloquently stated. His biggest “ripple” took shape in the form of the Riley Mother Baby Hospital in Eldoret, as he raised $3 million to open the facility in 2009. The hospital was truly a miracle: it was funded mostly by individuals, built during an unfortunate time of violence, and created to withstand an earthquake thanks to its hand-chiseled bricks.
Dr. Lemons stands in front of the entrance of the Riley Mother and Baby Hospital.
Now facilitating the birth of approximately 20,000 babies every year and the care of over 100 babies in the NICU, the Riley Mother Baby Hospital in Kenya empowers and celebrates women. Dr. Lemons reflected on the impact of the hospital with tears in his eyes “For a woman in Kenya to have her birth in that medical center, it is such a gift. It means so much for them and it lifts them up. They have a place to call home.”
Dr. Lemons continues to make an impact through care in his daily life and mentioned one of his favorite quotes by the poet Rumi to summarize his view of serving and impacting the lives of others: “We are simply walking each other home.”
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Rabiah Amjad is an undergraduate student at IUPUI and an intern at the IU Center for Global Health.