Health & Wellness

Aggie Healthcare Hero: Nnamdi Gwacham, Class of 2009

Nnamdi Gwacham knew at a very early age that he wanted a career in the healthcare industry.
 
The former Utah State football player recalled a time when he was in boarding school in Nigeria and suffered an injury to his lower leg. The principal at his school told Gwacham that a doctor would not be able to see him.
 
The reason? There were no doctors around.
 
Even at a young age, that didn't sit well with Gwacham and he vowed that "I want to be the doctor for the next 10-year-old boy who's told that he can't be seen by a doctor because there were none around."
 
Gwacham is now living his dream as a healthcare worker. The 2009 graduate of Utah State is the OB/GYN chief resident at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, an affiliate of RWJBarnabas Health, in Livingston, N.J.
 
As the nation battles COVID-19, many essential employees and health care providers are going above and beyond every day, including Gwacham, who is fighting the pandemic in the Garden State.
 
Gwacham, who was a wide receiver for the Aggies from 2006-09, earned a bachelor's degree in exercise science in the spring of 2009. He also participated in track & field at Utah State, helping the Aggies capture the 2007 Western Athletic Conference Outdoor Championship.
 
In honor of our former student-athletes who are on the front lines fighting the coronavirus around the world, Utah State Athletics has created the Q&A series: Aggie Healthcare Heroes. If you are a former USU student-athlete and are on the frontlines of the pandemic, please contact Wade Denniston at wade.denniston@usu.edu.
 
USU: First off, how are you doing, and how are your family and friends doing?
 
Gwacham: I'm doing well. I have been fortunate that my immediate family has been unaffected, for the most part during these hard times, at least from a health standpoint. The economic impacts are obvious, but we have been lucky to stay healthy during these times. Some of my friends and colleagues have been afflicted, but have thankfully recovered.
 
USU: What types of precautions are you taking in the wake of COVID-19?
 
Gwacham: We have really heeded the guidelines regarding social distancing in an effort to minimize exposure. Obviously, I still have to come to work on a daily basis, but when I am not at work, I have tried to minimize the amount of time that I spend outside of my home. Things I generally take for granted like going to the grocery store or the gym have gone by the wayside now to keep others from getting sick.
 
USU: What has the past month or so been like for you at work?
 
Gwacham: In short – unprecedented. These were supposed to be the last few months of residency for me, which were meant to be filled with events for our graduating residents. Instead, given the surge of sick patients and limited resources, even some of our OB/GYN residents have been tasked to help out the ICU efforts. Things like routine elective surgeries are now on hold while our resources have been shifted to tackle the pandemic. We still have to take care of obstetric patients and emergencies therein, and have taken the necessary measures to properly screen those patients upon their arrival to the hospital to better protect the healthcare team and others in the hospital.
 
USU: You, along with medical professionals working in hospitals all across the world, have been on the frontlines and have seen what most of the world has not. Do you have a message for the general public on the severity of what you've seen and experienced first-hand?
 
Gwacham: I have had colleagues and mentors that have been affected by the disease that note just how horrific it can be. I have seen countless families lose loved ones, both young and old. I commend what we have done from a social distancing standpoint, to help mitigate the impact. My message to the general public is to stay the course. We have come so close to begin turning the corner and flattening the curve, and we cannot afford to reverse all the good that has been done thus far. I, too, understand the economic impact that this is having on our country, but we cannot safely loosen up restrictions and guidelines until we are certain that our healthcare resources are capable of handling the potential number of sick patients. So, my message is to finish strong. We've already come so far and are so close to the end!
 
USU: How did your journey to becoming a doctor begin?
 
Gwacham: My journey into medicine began when I was a young boy in boarding school back in Nigeria. I had an injury to my lower leg and my principal told me that I couldn't be seen by a doctor because there were none around. Something about that statement in the moment found me trying to defy and change his narrative about the impossibility of a young boy's wounds being tended to by a healthcare professional. Somehow, I thought to myself, "I want to be the doctor for the next 10-year-old boy who is told that he can't be seen by a doctor because there were none around." It was a momentary thought that burgeoned when I became older and gained a curiosity for medicine and the sciences.
USU: How did your student-athlete experience at Utah State prepare you for your role in the medical profession?
 
Gwacham: I was privileged to have the complete experience at Utah State as a student-athlete, both as a competitor and an administrator. I was privileged to serve in a number of leadership positions. As a student-athlete, I learned how to juggle sport and academic responsibilities. I also learned how to work as a cohesive unit toward achieving a goal. So much of medicine is really about personality, or the ability to deal with people effectively, and the ability to lead people. I believe those are characteristics that student-athletes possess that invariably help in a career in medicine.
 
USU: What is a word of advice for people during this pandemic?
 
Gwacham: Be hopeful. My mom always taught me that without life, there is no hope. All across the nation, we have lost numerous people in the last few weeks. We have also seen many people recover. That's something to be hopeful for, that we can and will persevere.
 
USU: What part of your job is helping fight against COVID-19?
 
Gwacham: The general routine of obstetrics and gynecology from a resident standpoint has been completely dismantled. Gone are the days where we would spend hours in the operating room. These have now been replaced with helping to manage the care of patients that are critically ill. Whether it's keeping a family member apprised of the status of their loved one or helping to educating others about social distancing and proper hygiene, our roles have shifted accordingly to help in the fight.
 
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