They moved with their parents to the United States from their native Kenya in 2000 when they were 14 and 16, first settling in Indiana for a semester and moving to Minnesota in the fall. “It was December when we got to the United States,” recalls Eddie Mairura (B.S. Biology, '07 | M.D. ’11), a University orthopedic surgery resident. “There we were, two teenagers with accents who had never seen snow before.”
His sister, Linah Mairura (B.S. Biology, '06 | M.D. ’13 Ohio State University), picks up the story. “I had just completed the eleventh grade in Kenya, but I had to start it over again here,” says the current resident in the St. John’s Family Medicine program. “My academic advisor played a huge role in helping navigate the educational system and eventually be admitted to CBS. I didn’t even know what the SAT and other college entry requirements were, but he helped me figure out how to register and take them.”
These two teenagers who had never seen snow and didn’t know what the SAT test was grew quickly acclimated to Minnesota culture and climate. At Hopkins High School, Linah maintained a 4.0 GPA for her remaining high schools classes, and Eddie continued to excel academically while maintaining involvement in school sports.
And even as she was learning the ropes of the U.S. educational system, Linah never wavered from her determination to become a doctor. She points to a serious early childhood illness as the motivation for her medical career. “I was in the hospital for a long time, and my parents were told to prepare for the possibility that I might not make it,” she says. “After all that contact with the Kenyan healthcare community, I became sure that I wanted to be a doctor.” As for Eddie, he was proud to follow his sister’s career path into medicine. “She blazed the trail," he says. The brother and sister are the first medical doctors in their immediate family. My parents were very supportive of my ambition, along with my uncle, who has since passed away. He always treated me as if becoming a doctor was a done deal. I never heard ‘if,’ from him, only ‘when.’”
Both Linah and Eddie credit the tutoring and mentorship offered at CBS as factors in their success. “The ACES program, which supports minority students in math and science, was so helpful,” Linah says. Eddie’s graduating class was the first to complete the Nature of Life program at Itasca Biological Station and Laboratires, which he feels provided a solid foundation for his CBS career. “I also remember when, over the years, they would have medical students come in and talk to us. In retrospect, it had a big impact,” Eddie says. He was named a Page Scholar by The Page Education Foundation when he was as an undergraduate, and again while a medical school student. “That encouragement and support changed my life, and helped me pursue my dream of becoming a doctor,” he says.
The brother and sister are already looking ahead to the greater impact they will be able to make as working physicians. “We feel really blessed, and it’s not something we take for granted,” Linah says. “We often talk about what we can do as involved alumni, because CBS is where we found our footing in this country. We know that we’re role models in our community, and we dream of establishing a scholarship at the school.”
But their dreams don’t end there. “We’re both passionate about international medical missions that provide healthcare to people who are less fortunate and have less access than we do in the United States,” says Eddie. “We want to fund or help a hospital in Kisii village, Kenya, where our grandparents’ currently live, and to return there regularly on a volunteer basis and provide our services to their community.”
When considering this ambitious goal, they remain undaunted. “It’s okay to have a dream and keep an end point in mind, no matter how big it is,” says Linah. “We will meet people who are willing to help, and even though we’re not sure exactly how it’s going to work yet, we’ll figure it out.”
For now, their focus is on completing their residencies, which both end in 2016. Before that happens, there is a possibility that two Dr. Mairuras will be residents at a Minnesota hospital at the same time. “We have not worked together professionally yet, but I have an upcoming rotation in orthopedics next year, so it would be interesting if we end up co-residents,” Linah says. When asked for a fuller explanation of what she means by “interesting,” she laughs. “I would love it—learning from each other's field of interest. We work well together.”
— Julie Kendrick