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Hospital Draws Man Back to Africa

Miami professor Bill Todd to return to Sierra Leone to help rebuild village clinic

Speech professor Bill Todd reaches into his desk drawer at his Miami Dade College office and pulls out a yellowed letter, typewritten and dated April 15, 1972.

The dispatch was sent by B.M. Kobba, M.D., from the small West African village of Mobai in Sierra Leone.

Africa hospital

Bill Todd. — Courtesy of John William Todd

"I want to express my heartfelt pleasure," Kobba wrote, "on the occasion of the opening of my hospital."

Todd, 74, had a lot to do with the building of that hospital. In 1966, he was in the village on a Peace Corps mission when he met Kobba and helped him build Eastern Clinic Mobai.

See also: The Peace Corps wants you!

In December, Todd will return to Sierra Leone, a country he hasn't visited in 37 years.

The reason: Todd plans to help rebuild the clinic, which was badly damaged during the civil war that ravaged Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. The war left more than 50,000 people dead and much of the country's infrastructure destroyed.

Finding a long-lost friend

For years, Todd had tried to reach Kobba, whom he feared was dead. In June, he finally made contact and discovered that Kobba, 70, had fled the country during the uprising but had since returned.

The need to rebuild the hospital is great because the closest clinic is 50 miles away, says Kobba's nephew, Raymond Strasser-King. Kobba still sees patients, but since the war, he no longer has enough medication or the proper facility to treat them.

"People are dying of common, curable diseases such as appendicitis and malaria," says Strasser-King, who was born in Mobai but now lives in Sacramento, Calif. "My uncle is looking forward to Professor Todd's visit. He's excited, and the whole town is excited that help may be on the way."

Todd is delighted to assist his friend with fundraising and organizing the rebuilding effort.

"I've never known him to think of himself," Todd says. "The typical person wants comfort. But Dr. Kobba just wants to help others."

The same could be said about Todd, who estimates he works more than 70 hours a week as a teacher, encouraging students such as Anthony Spallone.

"His stories make you want to do something with your life," Spallone says. "He's inspirational."

Next: Creating a hospital in the jungle. >>

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