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Helping to fill a desperate need

Steve and Eden Martin and their children, Lydia (bottom left), Chappell and Annie, are pictured just a day before leaving their Greenville home. (photo by Jeremy Fleming '08)

Steve Martin ’00 and his wife, Eden, have spent a collective 15 years in post-undergraduate schooling.

After graduating from Furman, Steve attended law school and was a practicing attorney for four years before changing careers to medicine. He graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2011 and just completed a fellowship in pediatric hematology in Indiana this spring.

Eden’s path took her from Wake Forest University to the Medical University of South Carolina where she earned a master’s degree in physical therapy in 2002.

With medical school and fellowships in their wake one would think the Martins, both Greenville natives who grew up in the same neighborhood, would be anxious to settle down with their young children and reap the just rewards of their collective hard work.

Instead, they have moved to Malawi, the fifth poorest country in the world. Their workplace is a four-story, cinderblock hospital where two children are crowded onto one bed and patient privacy is non-existent.

“This is the reward,” says Steve, smiling.

There is a critical need for physicians and nurses in Malawi where nearly 90 percent of the children who are diagnosed with cancer die. In the United States, it’s 10 percent. While Malawi, roughly the size of Florida, is safe, the landlocked nation in eastern Africa is desperately poor. Only five percent of the population has access to reliable electricity and the per capita income is the equivalent of $216.

The Martins and their three children, Chappell, 10, Lydia, 6, and Annie, 8, moved into a tiny neighborhood for international families in Lilongwe, the nation’s capital, earlier this month. One of their next-door neighbors is Furman Earth and Environmental Sciences Professor Suresh Muthukrishnan who has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to research and teach at Lilongwe University for Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) during the 2017-18 academic year.

The families had ice cream this June in Greenville after an article about Muthukrishnan was posted on the Furman News site.

“Can you imagine? A lot of people don’t even know where Malawi is. Because it’s so small, often it’s not labeled,” says Eden. “And we get a text that says check this article out. It was about a Furman professor and his family with a 10-year old going to the exact same place within one week of each other, living in the same neighborhood. That’s amazing to me.”

While caring for children who have been diagnosed with cancer, the Martins will work to train nurses and work with caretakers, pharmacists and social workers to establish good medical practices.

“From a medical standpoint there is a lot of low-hanging fruit,” says Steve. “Just some little improvements can go a long way toward saving lives. It’s exciting and a huge privilege to be part of something like this.”

The Martins’ sojourn to Malawi is made possible through the Texas Children’s Hospital Global HOPE (Hematology Oncology Pediatric Excellence) program which plans to establish medical hubs throughout in sub-Saharan Africa. Global HOPE is also funding initiatives in Botswana and Uganda.

Steve learned about Global HOPE during his fellowship where he served as a pediatric oncologist with a partner hospital in Kenya.

The project appealed to his sense of adventure, curiosity and need to help others.

“He wasn’t really looking for this,” says Eden. “It was an opportunity that just landed in his lap. After thinking and praying over it for a time, we both thought that it was something that we had to do. This is an opportunity that God has given us. We’re Christians, and we feel like God has given us talent and abilities, and we’re called to put those to use.”

The Martins aren’t sure how long they will remain in Malawi. It could be two years or a lifetime.

“We always say a couple of years and then we’ll reevaluate,” says Steve. “We could stay there.”

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