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'All in'; Southern Illinois radiologists set to become medical missionaries

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Mike and Shanaree Muzinich will be leaving their local health care jobs to become medical missionaries in Kenya.

Mike and Shanaree Muzinich are good at interpreting the signs.

As radiologists, Mike is the former director of nuclear medicine at an area hospital and Shanaree is a specialist in breast imaging. They have spent years learning how to study, contemplate and make decisions based on what they see.

In their personal lives, the Carbondale couple has spent the last several months studying and contemplating signs, too; signs that have led them to make a decision to act on their faith by leaving their local positions and start anew as Christian missionary physicians in Kenya.

They admit this decision wasn’t on their radar just a few years ago. In fact, they were not even Christians as recently as five years ago when a series of personal crises led them to faith and a Carbondale church where Mike said they have been “all in.”

“I felt like every teaching was directed directly at us and we soon got involved in the church and in serving,” he said. “Then over the last couple of years whenever we would go on vacation, we would just happen to run into missionaries or Christian organizations that needed doctors.”

He said those chance encounters planted a seed. The Muzinichs began exploring Christian missionary organizations as they were feeling called to overseas ministry. They looked at medical mission opportunities onboard ships that traveled from nation to nation and they considered “in country” missionary roles, but with each, there was just one problem: children. The couple has six of them, ranging in age from 7 to 22.

They found that while many missionary organizations were desperate for doctors, few were looking for a pair for a single site and even fewer were looking for married physicians with children. Each time, plans were scrapped.

Still, the family would frequently type “Christian Health Service” into Google, usually with no new results. Then one day, the top result on the search engine was one they had never seen before: Christian Health Service Corps. The Muzinichs took it as a sign.

“We called them and the reason we did was that on their website we kept seeing something you don’t see on other mission organization’s pages: people with a bunch of kids. I mean, practically every picture was a mom, a dad and a bunch of kids,” Shanaree said.

“We called them,” Mike continued, “And they said, ‘That’s what we do.’ Their focus is full-time health care missionaries with families in places that are in the greatest need.”

Shanaree said for her and Mike to best utilize their specialized backgrounds as missionary physicians – specifically as radiologists, things would have to be just right.

“With what we do as radiologists, there has to be a certain level of development before we can be of any significant use to an area other than giving vaccines or stitching up wounds,” she said, adding a hospital would have to have CT scanners, X-ray machines and more.

Turns out, there was such a place. Leaders with Christian Health Service Corps asked if the Muzinichs had ever considered Kenya.

When the couple asked why, they learned the organization said they had been praying for radiologists for ten years to work at a non-profit missionary hospital in Kinjabe, about 32 miles (but a dangerous 90-minute drive) from the capital city of Nairobi.

“They said they had radiologists who had come through for a few weeks, but nobody ever stayed,” Shanaree said, adding that the hospital had some imaging equipment – all donated, but no one to read the films. “They’d get sent to a group in Nairobi that might be read within a week and they may or may not be read accurately.”

The Muzinichs decided to visit the country and the hospital. During their visit, word quickly spread that radiologists were in the building.

“The gentleman escorting us kept getting phone calls asking if they could please bring the radiologist here or there. They had things that they needed us to look at,” Mike said.

In fact, Muzinch told the story of looking at a film during their visit of an infant suffering from brain swelling just as physicians were beginning to treat the problem in their usual fashion. Mike ran from the room yelling for the procedure to stop. By reading the scans, he knew the chosen treatment would not benefit the patient. In fact, odds are it would have been fatal.

“We ran into a pediatric surgeon during our visit and he said he really wished we would come,” Mike recalled. “He asked us if we would do biopsies and then told us he recently had to do one and in doing it, he punctured a baby’s bowel because he did it incorrectly and then had to go to surgery to fix it. They are doing things outside of their specialties because they have to.”

Kijabe Hospital

Kinjabe Hospital is a 350-bed facility about 32 miles from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Mike and Shanaree Muzinich will serve the hospital and its patients as radiologists beginning later this year.

During their visit, the couple saw the equipment they potentially could be working with: CT scanners, ultrasound machines and X-Ray equipment. Looking around, Mike asked about a completely empty room near all of the other imaging equipment. Turns out the space was waiting for the hospital’s very first mammography machine to arrive, a donation from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Shanaree saw it as a sign.

“They (the hospital) knew they were getting it, and they said they had this brand new machine but didn’t know what to do with it because they had no one to read it. That was before they learned of my specialty,” she said.

The hospital, which began as a small outpatient clinic has grown to a 350-bed hospital treating patients from Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania and other nations. A mix of Kenyan and Christian missionary physicians who perform 8,000 surgical and 150,000 outpatient visits each year – all without radiologists until later this year, when the Muzinichs and four of their children move to Kenya for a long-term volunteer assignment.

“From the minute we hit the ground in Kenya, there was just confirmation after confirmation that this is what we are supposed to do,” Mike added.

The plan is for the family to begin five to six weeks of missionary training this summer followed by additional instruction specifically for medical workers prior to moving to Kenya in the fall.

“We say we will be there for ten years just because that gives a nice cut-off point, but we’ll stay there until God doesn’t want us there anymore,” Shanaree said. “And then we might go to another spot in Africa or somewhere else.”

Looking back, the Muzinichs say there have been signs all along.

“Even before we became Christians, we always like traveling, we love other cultures,” Shanaree explained. “But it was always on our own terms. Now it’s like He is saying, ‘You love other cultures, you love people, so this is what you will do and this is how I’m going to use you.”

The Muzinichs are moving to Kenya as unpaid missionaries. They welcome financial support. Information about their effort is available online at www.healthservicecorps.org/author/muzinich/ or by texting “Muzinich” to 71777.

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