PAS program prepares alumna for her calling in Kenya

In June 2015, the unthinkable happened for physician assistant studies student Amy Hehre. Her three-year-old nephew, Ovidio, passed away. A “nephew through love”, as Amy puts it, “Ovi” was an orphan cared for by Amy’s sister. 

Nearly three years later, Amy and her husband—Robert—have changed countless lives as founders of the nonprofit Ovi & Violet International, and its accompanying medical facility in Kenya called OVI Children’s Hospital.

The love their nephew felt during his brief life is now given to thousands of Kenya’s 3.6 million orphans who come to the hospital in search of free medical treatment for some of sub-Saharan Africa’s most critical cases of curable and chronic disease.

“These children have nowhere else to look for the medical care they so desperately need, since most orphanages run on a monthly budget of $400 or less,” Amy said.

The vision for Ovidio’s namesake originated during a pre-professional health care mission in 2012. After realizing that her dream was to become a doctor and travel the world, Amy set about making her dreams a reality and applied to the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences’ Physician Assistant Studies (PAS) program where she received the hands-on education and widespread support needed to make her mark in Kenya.

“My professors were among the most encouraging people in my journey to founding the OVI Children’s Hospital,” Amy said. “Being a full-time student and opening a hospital simultaneously was a challenge I could not have met without their continued belief in my dreams and their dedication to equipping me for my future.”

While studying in the PAS program, Amy gained a great deal of experience she has put to use during her time in Kenya. “The staff expertise and clinical rotation opportunities were a perfect match for my international focus and long-term goals,” she said.

This abundance of patient-to-PA experience proved invaluable in establishing relationships with those cared for at OVI Children’s Hospital. “Whenever I go in, I don’t see someone as a map or a piece of technology I need to fix. I see them as someone’s daughter, as someone’s friend, as someone’s cousin, favorite student, or best friend,” Amy continued.

According to Amy, her decision to study at the UK College of Health Sciences Morehead campus provided crucial insight into practicing medicine in underserved areas. This education transitioned seamlessly to her mission in Kenya. “While access to advanced healthcare in my region of Kenya is significantly less than that of rural Kentucky, the principles of the rural-health track were extremely beneficial in my preparation for this work,” she said.

At Ovi & Violet International, Amy carried abroad the College of Health Sciences’ tradition for compassionate medical care through her message of hope and healing to those who have known so much pain. “People ask us, ‘Isn’t caring for children with terminal conditions going to be a sad life?'” she said. “We always tell them that we aren’t afraid of being sad. We’re afraid of what will happen if no one takes the risk to love them.”