No Turning Back
Sir. Dr. Michael Wood is the founder of AMREF Health Africa and AMREF Flying Doctors More
Sir Michael Wood was born on January 28, 1918 in the UK. He studied medicine, and in 1943 he qualified as a surgeon and soon after was married to Susan Buxton.
Susan’s deep-rooted interest in Africa after spending her early life in Zaire finally pushed the move of the young Wood family, then with two children, to East Africa. They arrived at the port of Mombasa in 1948. With the help of Gerald Anderson, Michael Wood established himself as General Surgeon in East Africa. Soon he found he was regularly being called to emergencies beyond the confines of the city of Nairobi. Often he had to charter flights to remote locations where no hospitals existed. The number of these emergencies escalated and became a challenge. Mindful of what lay ahead, Michael learnt to fly.
In 1954, Michael went to England on a Marks Plastic Surgery Fellowship with Sir Archibald McIndoe. Together with Dr. Thomas Rees, an American surgeon (also a beneficiary of the Marks Plastic Surgery Fellowship), they would develop the idea of Amref Health Africa and its Flying Doctors Service.
The needs for fundraising for Amref Health Africa were very demanding from the beginning, which Michael Wood undertook tirelessly. This involved him taking breaks from his work in Africa to solicit funds in Europe and North America. His fundraising trips brought him into contact with famous people: His Highness the Aga Khan IV; Prince Karim, Dusty Roads of the Sloan-Kettering Foundation, Vice-President Richard Nixon, as well as David Rockefeller; one of the Rockefeller brothers.
Sister Breege Breslin, one of the Medical Missionaries of Mary who is proud to have worked with Sir Michael Wood on many occasions as his theatre nurse, said, that it was his faith and his determination to help ease a situation that made him the ‘Legend’ he is. Sister Breege said during a recent interview that even after long hours of surgery with very little daylight left for him to fly back to base, Sir Michael Wood would always take the time to see one last patient.
In 1970, he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal for services to Africa and later in 1985 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1986, he was given the Raoul Wallenburg Award for Humanity.
Michael Wood retired from being Director General of AMREF Health Africa in 1985 and soon afterwards went on to establish FARM Africa (Food and Agricultural Research Mission). In May 1987 Michael died of cancer at his Karen home.
As well as numerous technical articles including ‘From an Idea to an Institution – AMREF at 25 years’, and ‘Who Aids Whom’, Michael Wood wrote his autobiography ‘Go an Extra Mile’ in 1978, ‘Different Drums’ with photographer David Coulson in 1987, and ‘No Turning Back’. This manuscript was discovered after his death and was edited for publication by his wife Susan.
Michael and Susan had four children: Mark who has become a world-renowned Ophthalmic surgeon, Janet who farms in Tanzania, Hugo who grows wheat in Kenya, and Katrina who works between Los Angeles and London on promoting the film industry….
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