A little bit of salt

by Steve Almond

Even as a child growing up in Owerri, Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Elenwoke had a penchant for surgery. “I remember my mom would buy a chicken for us to eat, and she would ask me to prepare it for cooking,” he says. “I would cut into the bird very carefully, trying to understand its insides. My mom got mad at me for wasting time, but gradually she realized that I was doing this for a reason.” As a teenager, Elenwoke was taken to a nearby hospital to visit a family friend. He promptly wandered away from his mother to see patients on a nearby ward, feeling an instinctual desire to heal them.

With his family’s support, Elenwoke, 39, attended medical school and now works as a neurosurgeon in Barcelona, Spain. He still goes back to Nigeria to perform surgeries when he can, but his desire to help patients and doctors in his homeland prompted Elenwoke in 2016 to help launch Docotal Health, which uses an international community of doctors to remotely help patients in underserved parts of the world.

Sometimes, this consists of Elenwoke dispensing medical advice directly to a patient via email or video chats. Just as often, Docotal offers support to health professionals on the ground. “Our community of doctors has different specialties,” he explains. “We have a cardiologist who can help if there is heart pain, a radiologist who can read X-rays and scans. Our core group consists of 11 doctors, but each of us has our own network we can reach out to.”

Elenwoke’s devotion to service dates back to his teenage years in Nigeria, where he joined Interact, following in the footsteps of his brother-in-law, a longtime Rotarian. Rotary and Docotal recently collaborated on a campaign to provide personal protective equipment for health workers in Nigeria, and future projects are in the works.

“To be successful,” Elenwoke says, “you have to surround yourself with a team that helps you succeed. You also need ‘a little bit of salt,’ which means a little bit of luck. For me, finding Rotary, having them as part of my team, has been that little bit of salt.”