Kellermann honored by American Medical Association | TheUnion.com

Kellermann honored by American Medical Association

Sarah Hunter
Staff Writer

The American Medical Association has recognized Dr. Scott Kellermann with the 2018 Dr. Nathan Davis International Award.

This award recognizes physicians whose treatment, education and counseling to patients beyond the U.S. border has made a positive impact on global healthcare, which is the least that could be said about what Kellermann and his wife have done. He was recognized for his work with and for the Batwa pygmies in southwest Uganda.

What sparked this entire movement was the removal of the Batwa pygmies in 1992 from the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, a place they had lived for most of their history. They were removed to convert the forest into a World Heritage Site to protect the endangered mountain gorillas that also lived there. The Batwas were left homeless.

"I always knew I was going to be a doctor, and thought if I was going to be a doctor, I was going to go to Africa," Kellermann said. "It seemed like it had the most need. But my wife, Carol, had some fears of Africa, because she worried about the diseases.

One summer, however, Kellermann said the couple had a chance to do a medical survey on the Batwa pygmies. Carol had a lifetime fascination with pygmies and agreed to go. A few weeks later, Kellermann said his wife felt like she'd come home. A few weeks after that the Kellermann's decided to sell their Nevada County home and move to Africa to help full-time.

"The Batwas had lived in peaceful coexistence with these mountain gorillas for a couple of thousand years," Kellermann said. "The Batwa called the mountain gorillas and the chimps 'sakamunto' which translates to 'is just like us'…But we always create parks, because people go in the parks and they wanna feel like they're the first people there, and it's easier to patrol a park. If there's anyone in the park that's not a tourist paying money, then they will be shot. They'll be asked to stop — 'reika', stop — and if you don't stop — boom.

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"Now that's the western perspective. If you ask the Batwa about it — the Batwa don't have a past-tense in their language, so it's a little hard for them to ruminate about the past. It usually goes back just a few days. So they will say 'we lived in the park, and now we don't.' And as a result, there's no emotional content in it … there's no malice."

When asked about the spelling of reika and sakamunto for clarification, Kellermann said "it's not a written language, so there isn't a spelling." Because of this, the words have been spelled phonetically.

"And sometimes [the world] can say 'ha, you guys are illiterate!'" Kellermann continued. "It's true, but they are not unintelligent. And so all their stories and legends are oral tradition. Oral traditions are very rich in culture."

The beginning of this journey was not easy. Before any foundations were set up, the Kellermanns and a team of doctors went out to Uganda with just the essentials.

"Our intensive care unit was under the shade of a tree. We hung IVs from the branches of trees, tying them up with vines, dripping life-saving quinine into the veins of kids suffering from cerebral malaria."

But as time went on and the Kellermanns persevered, the situation improved. For 18 years, they have worked in southwest Uganda, assisting in healthcare and research, and establishing a non-profit named The Kellermann Foundation. This foundation was formed in 2004, and has facilitated surgery, HIV/AIDs treatment, reproductive healthcare, maternal care, diagnostic services, and more. With the help of many altruistic and dedicated citizens of Nevada County, the hospital grew from 20 beds to 125 beds, and was rated one of the top hospitals in Uganda.

"A few years ago, 40 percent of our outpatients visits were due to malaria, and we were losing one or two kids every week," Kellermann said. "We started distributing these mosquito nets, and working with [the local native doctors], and now less than four percent of our outpatients are due to malaria, and now we'll go six to nine months without a kid dying in our institution."

For now, Kellermann is back in the states, working at Community Recovery Resources in Grass Valley. He will be speaking at The Union's Healthy You event, discussing how the Batwa pygmies stay positive and happy despite having a food insecurity of 97 percent, allegedly the highest percentage in the world.

For those of us who would like to assist in the cause and cannot make the trek to Africa, visit: http://www.kellermannfoundation.org

Sarah Hunter is a University of Nevada journalism student and intern with The Union. Contact her at ncpcintern@theunion.com.

KNOW AND GO

Who: Dr. Kellermann

What: Healthy You: Surprised by Joy in Sub-Saharan Africa

When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday

Where: Grass Valley Veteran’s Hall