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Patients wait to see a doctor at the original hospital around 1962.
Patients wait to see a doctor at the original hospital around 1962.

Oasis Hospital celebrates 50 years of care for a community

A series of events marking the anniversary of the Al Ain hospital is set to run over the next five months.

AL AIN // In 1960, 11 years before the unification of the Emirates, Sheikh Zayed met doctors Pat and Marion Kennedy in the United States. At the time, the infant mortality rates in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi were at 50 per cent and the maternal mortality rate was 35 per cent. Endemic diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria as well as eye ailments and parasites were plaguing Al Ain's then population of 1,800.

To address these health problems, Sheikh Zayed invited the two doctors to Al Ain to establish a clinic. Oasis Hospital opened its doors in November 1960 in a mud-block building donated by Sheikh Zayed. Today, the Christian missionary hospital stands on the same plot of land and is still serving the community, but it is now a modern complex with a full range of services. Thanks to the hospital, infant mortality rates are now below one percent and maternal mortality is a thing of the past.

Yesterday, celebrations began to mark Oasis Hospital's 50th birthday with the raising of a new and unique anniversary flag, the first of a series of events set to run over the next five months. "Our first event is focused on the local community," said Brooks Glett, vice president for public and community affairs at Oasis Hospital. "Then in September, the hospital's first surgeon, Dr Daryl Erickson, will return from the United States for the dedication of a suite in his name. And in November a major gala dinner will be held bringing together former and present staff."

An invitation has been extended to Pat and Marion Kennedy's children, Kathleen, Nancy, Scott and Douglas, some of whom were born at Oasis Hospital and grew up in Al Ain along with Sheikh Zayed's children. That friendship continues today. "Doctors Pat and Marion Kennedy in 1960 lived as the citizens did. They came with hearts full of love and not only dealt with the bodies of the people but also with their spirit," said Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, when the Kennedy Centre for New Life was established last year.

"By the grace of God they [Kennedys] and their small team provided the first modern healthcare facility in the region, bringing with them hope and renewal. "Doctors Pat and Marion Kennedy will always be remembered because of their love and compassion for the people of this land." Marion Kennedy passed away at the age of 84, in 2008, 15 years after her husband. It was not only the doctors that made sacrifices but also their four children, Kathleen, Nancy, Scott and Douglas.

"When we first came here in 1960 there was nothing but sand and to arrive to Al Ain we had to drive 15 hours over the sand dunes by Land Rover," Dr Kathleen Kennedy-Quadro said. "This was our home for a long time and the people here we felt were our people." Dr Scott Kennedy also has many memories of growing up in Al Ain. "We had a television back in the day but could only watch it one night a week because the generator was always being used for the hospital," he said.

"We used to watch The Saint with Roger Moore and really looked forward to it, but if there was an emergency case at the hospital that needed to be attended to, like a caesarean section, then the generator would have to be used to power the hospital." Other long-term staff members of Oasis Hospital who left a legacy of compassion and excellent medical care include the late Gertrude Dyck - nurse, midwife and author of the book The Oasis.

Miss Dyck, who worked for nearly 40 years at the hospital, died last year aged 75 following a fall in her native Canada, where she had retired. During her career at the hospital, she helped deliver many of the 90,000 babies born there. In 1964, a cement-block building was created with 20 patient rooms, a nurses' station, nursery and utility room. Soon after opening, staff members were seeing nearly 200 patients per day.

A delivery suite, X-ray facilities, additional patient rooms, and staff housing were added in the early 1970s. Obstetrics, surgery and children's health facilities were built in 1985. Construction is now beginning on a new Oasis Hospital facility, set to open in 2012, just behind its current location. The new hospital will add another 150 beds and will provide both outpatient and inpatient services. It will include speciality clinics for orthopaedics, ophthalmology and ear, nose and throat.

The present inpatient building will be renovated to include more VIP inpatient suites, educational facilities and an administrative wing. @Email:ealghalib@thenational.ae

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