Coming from a world away, this doctor is now making a difference in Middletown he didn’t expect

Benedict Uzoma Njoku is the newest project coordinator for the Healthy Middletown Coalition. Njoku was born in Nigeria but moved to Ukraine at the age of 18 to go to medical school. After completing his schooling in Ukraine he came to Ohio to get his masters degree in health promotion from Miami University. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Caption
Benedict Uzoma Njoku is the newest project coordinator for the Healthy Middletown Coalition. Njoku was born in Nigeria but moved to Ukraine at the age of 18 to go to medical school. After completing his schooling in Ukraine he came to Ohio to get his masters degree in health promotion from Miami University. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Dr. Benedict Njoku graduated a semester early with his master’s degree from Miami University so he could, quite frankly, get to a larger city.

Njoku, a Nigerian native, spent nine years in the Ukraine earning his medical degree from Ivano Frankivsk National Medical University, then practiced medicine there for two years.

MORE McCRABB: McCrabb: She lost her baby brother 15 years ago. His memory drives this teen’s inspiring efforts.

When the conflict with Russia intensified in the Ukraine, Njoku’s parents — his father is a professor, his mother manages a hotel in Nigeria — urged him to continue his education in the United States. He said Miami offered him a scholarship.

He’s a world traveler, this 28-year-old doctor. So to him, Oxford was a quaint little college town, the same reason that makes it the choice for thousands of students.

He dreamed of living and working in a large city. Los Angeles. New York. Chicago. Before living in Oxford, the only city in Ohio he had heard of was Cleveland, and that’s because some guy named LeBron James played basketball there at the time.

Then, as so often happens, life threw Njoku a curve.

Kristy Duritsch, executive director of the Safety Council of Southwestern Ohio, was looking for a project coordinator, so she contacted Valerie Ubbes, a good friend and professor at Miami University. She asked Ubbes if she had any students who would make good job candidates.

MORE McCRABB: This Middletown golf club has grown from near bankruptcy to growth in 5 years. Meet the man behind it.

She mentioned Njoku, and when Duritsch was told he was a doctor, she asked the obvious question: “Why does he want this job?”

“Give him a chance,” Ubbes said.

He was interviewed, and Duritsch was so impressed, Njoku was offered the position.

“Positive and passionate,” is how Duritsch described him. “He cares. He sees what happens to people who don’t make good, healthy choices.”

So that big city life will have to wait.

If the enthusiasm in his voice and smile on his face are any indication, Njoku likes his new home.

“Happy making difference one life at a time,” he said.

For him, practicing medicine and talking to students about the dangers of substance abuse “go together like brother and sister.” He believes if young people make healthier decisions, they will be less dependent of medications. If people eat better and exercise more — two ways to reduce the risk of being hospitalized — their medical expenses will be reduced, he said.

“These are things that can be avoided,” he said.

He said drug education can’t start soon enough. He said research has shown that young people who “engage in social vices” have a void in their lives. To correct that, he said, students must find resources to “fill that emptiness.”

Last week, Njoku organized a game night for sixth- through 12th-grade students at Triple Moon Coffee Shop.

MORE McCRABB: This Butler County couple are both organ donors. Here’s their inspiring story.

Njoku moved to the U.S. in the summer of 2017 and graduated from Miami with a master’s degree in health promotion in December 2018. While at Miami, he spent a weekend in Atlanta visiting family and friends. When he returned to Miami, he fell into deep depression.

Looking back, Njoku figures staying at Miami was the best decision. Without Miami, he wouldn’t be in his current position.

“Sometimes life doesn’t get what you want,” he said, “but life gives you what you need.”