Less than two years have passed since Dr. John Walker and Nikie Ward were married, but half of their married life has been spent planning the mission trip they will take to Uganda on March 4 with Dr. Michael Muzoora, a native Ugandan who is a pulmonologist at Owensboro Health.
After a presentation over a year ago by Muzoora at a physician’s meeting where he asked for volunteers, John, a local family physician, asked his wife if she would be interested in volunteering with this mission trip. Nikie said she was immediately on board, having been on 15 mission trips before.
The three, along with two cardiologists and a critical care nurse, will travel to Uganda by plane and then drive a couple of hours to established clinics that have limited resources, There, the team will work to educate the community about diabetes, hypertension and inform them of the warning signs, among other services. They are hoping to serve around 1,000 in the community.
“Dr. Muzoora said that kids there know all about AIDS, but they don’t know about these, so we are hoping to educate and help,” Nikie said.
Nikie is the office manager at her family’s eye care office, Advantage Eye Care. She is taking 500 pairs of reading glasses and 200 pairs of sunglasses that were donated by the Owensboro Lions Club for Ugandans. She will provide a cursory eye screening to see what strength reading glass is needed for patients. She is hoping this will help them be able to sew, read and perform tasks that were difficult before receiving new glasses.
The sunglasses are to combat pterygium, a noncancerous growth that is common in people who spend a lot of time in the sun and outdoors, John said.
Bausch + Lomb, an eye health products company, has donated cases of artificial tears for the team to distribute as well.
The Walkers have traveled to Louisville to visit a travel clinic to prepare for the trip.They have received all of the required vaccinations, of which Nikie said the yellow fever vaccination was the worst.
Since this mission trip is not through a medical organization, Muzoora has done the research for the team on what they will do and where they will stay and work while they are in Uganda. He has created an itinerary for the team, including a two-day safari.
Nikie, who enjoys sewing, has enlisted several friends to help create reusable sanitary pads to take to the women in Uganda. She hopes to take over 500 — and one out-of-town friend has sent 250 to Nikie for the trip.
“I can’t imagine…[the women] can’t go to school, can’t be in a communal place…it really is a hindrance. They are chastised and shunned [during menstruation],” Nikie said. “I want to make it easier for them to be part of their community.”
The Walkers said that the planning of the trip has strengthened their relationship.
“Walker [John] has such a passion for helping the underserved, a real passion,” Nikie said of his serving as medical director of Audubon Area Community Care Clinic.
They agreed that this trip — and all of the planning — has given them something to look forward to and are already planning the next one.
In the future, Nikie said, they would like to organize one themselves to Central or South America. She said it appeals to her because she can speak Spanish and the flight is shorter.
They have raised over $3,000 independently and through the GoFundMe account, but would welcome more, which they will use to purchase medicines once they arrive in Uganda.