Nurse extends a helping hand far beyond the hospital

The essence of Ekene “Kennie” Amaefule can’t be captured in a few broad strokes. She’s a former Nurse of the Year at Harborview Medical Center. She has single-handedly improved health care, education, social services and access to clean water in her native village of Imo State, Nigeria. And as nurse manager at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Rehabilitation Care Services, she supervises nurses who care for veterans with disabilities and works bedside when needed to relieve veterans’ pain and help them regain mobility.

This mother of five children also paid her way through UW as an undergraduate by working as a model with Lola Hallowell Model & Talent Agency. She even had small parts in the movies “House of Games,” directed by David Mamet, and “Divorce Wars,” starring Tom Selleck.

While the roles of a nurse, fashion model and director of her own non-profit organization may seem at odds, they are tied together by Amaefule’s practicality. She’s driven to help people and can be relentless in the quest to solve problems, even if it means devoting a significant part of her personal income to her projects. When she came to the U.S. in 1981, she could see that what people take for granted here would be considered riches in her village and got into the habit of saving things to take back home.

As director of Caring Hearts International, the non-profit organization she founded, Amaefule, ’87, ’02, has set up programs for medical missions, created scholarships, purchased school supplies for children and assisted local women with micro-loans. She is currently seeking funds to build a free medical clinic and dialysis center in her hometown.

To recognize her humanitarian and philanthropic work in Imo State, Amaefule was crowned the first female chief in 2002. Her title Ugochinyere 1 means “An Eagle from God,” which symbolizes the significance of her invaluable contributions to communities.

Amaefule occasionally gives motivational speeches to first-year nursing students. She also guest lectures about international health at UW Tacoma. She previously worked as a trauma orthopedic nurse at Harborview Medical Center, treating patients who had been severely injured.

Amaefule is planning another medical mission of the end of this month. Interested in helping?