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Monday, August 14, 2006
Mutombo gives $15 million for hospital in Congo

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Dikembe Mutombo will fulfill a lifelong dream soon, opening a hospital in the Congo named for his late mother.
Dikembe Mutombo
Mutombo, seen earlier this year, gave $15 million for a hospital to be named after his mother.

The Houston Rockets center, who donated $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 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 $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. The average life expectancy is 42 years for men and 47 for women.

"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 104 degrees 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. We waited two hours for the malaria medicine from the CDC [in Atlanta]. I wish I knew her name to thank her."

Mutombo came to the U.S. in 1987 on an academic scholarship to attend Georgetown. As a premed major, he expected to return to the Congo as a doctor.

In his second year, Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson invited the 7-foot-2 Mutombo to try out for the team. He grew up loving soccer, but eventually came around to basketball under Thompson's guidance.

"He took me by his wing," Mutombo said. "He made me who I became today, he's like a father figure to me. I don't call him 'Coach,' I call him 'Pop.' He gave me all the tools to succeed -- maturity and education."

Georgetown was ranked No. 1 and reached the final eight twice in his three years of play. He was Big East defensive player of the year, averaging 15.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 4.71 blocks his senior year.

College basketball altered his plans to become a doctor, and he graduated instead with degrees in linguistics and diplomacy. He speaks English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and five African dialects.

Mutombo has averaged 10.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in his 15-year career.

Now he's satisfied to assist on the medical front. His goal is to get 100,000 people to contribute $10 a month on his Web site to support the hospital and research.

"I'm still a doctor, serving the people," Mutombo said.