Wed, Aug 16, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Dikembe Mutombo giving back to land of his birth

AP , NEW YORK

The Portland Trail Blazers' Steve Blake loses the ball to the Houston Rockets' Dikembe Mutombo, No. 55, in Portland, Oregon, on April 5.

PHOTO: AP

Dikembe Mutombo will fulfill a lifelong dream soon, opening a hospital in the Congo named for his late mother.

The Houston Rockets center, who donated US$15 million to the project, will open the doors to the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital and Research Center on Sept. 2. The 300-bed hospital will provide health care to people in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Mutombo was born.

"We were very close," Mutombo said on Monday in a telephone interview. "To do something of this caliber in the name of your beloved mom, it will mean a lot not just to me but to the people of Congo."

He created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation in 1997, the year his 64-year-old mother died. She was unable to get to the hospital because streets were closed due to civil unrest. His father, Samuel, was turned back from the hospital, just 10 minutes away.

"My mom played a big role, giving us all the tools to make us great human beings," Mutombo said of his nine siblings. "She did what moms are supposed to do -- raise a child with a good understanding of life."

The US$29 million hospital and research center will include a pediatric wing, surgery suites and a women's center.

The health care crisis continues in the Congo, where one of five children dies before age 5. Malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, measles and cholera have reached epidemic proportions and continue to infect millions of adults and children.

"Malaria is taking more lives than any other disease, especially children under age 5," he said.

Mutombo had a life-threatening bout of malaria after returning from the Congo in 1999. He had a "huge headache" and passed out after an early season game. His temperature rose to 40?C while at a suburban Boston hospital, but after 12 hours the doctors couldn't determine what was wrong until a Kenyan intern entered his room.

"Brother, are you from Africa?" she asked. "Which spot?"

When she heard Congo, she asked if he'd been home lately. He'd been back the previous month.

"She saved my life," Mutombo said. "We got the malaria results 40 minutes later ... I wish I knew her name to thank her."

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