On location at the Kalukembe Hospital in Angola, southern Africa
Nicholas Comninellis, MD, MPH, DIMPH, is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Community & Family Medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine and founder of the Institute for International Medicine, for whom he is a full-time volunteer. He served inner city citizens for a year at Shanghai Charity Hospital during the pre-prosperity era, and over two year period initiated a healthcare ministry in the war-besieged city of Huambo, Angola in southern Africa. He also served one-month medical assignments in Honduras, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Niger and Kunming, China, and for six years in the Kansas City public hospital system, before launching INMED in 2003.
He attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, the Saint Louis University School of Public Health, and was a family medicine resident at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center/John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Comninellis also earned a diploma in tropical medicine at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He is board certified in both public health and family medicine, is author of INMED International Medicine & Public Health, and is the 2015 University of Missouri-Kansas City Alumni of the Year.
Elementary school graduation
I was raised in Parkville, Missouri, situated on the Missouri River just northwest of Kansas City. The son of George and Dorothy Comninellis, I am the first born of four children, including Chris, Maria, and Daphne. George immigrated from Greece when he was 19 years young to study engineering at Park College. It was there he met Dorothy Moss, a music and education major from Harrisonville, Missouri. As a boy, I was active in the Saint Dionysios Greek Orthodox Church and in Boy Scout Troop 333.
Comninellis Family: Daphne, Maria, Dorothy, George, Chris, and Nick
Together with my brother Chris and sisters Maria and Daphne, our family frequently enjoyed weekends at the Lake of the Ozarks on Dad’s hand-crafted wooden boat. Twice our family also enjoyed summers living with Dad’s mother on the Greek Island of Lemnos, where I learned to ride a donkey, pick olives, and play the bouzouki, a popular mandolin-like instrument.
High school graduation
I attended Park Hill High School, in Kansas City North, where I took advantage of almost every available extra-curricular experience. Especially drawn to music, I learned to play guitar, trombone, piano, and studied voice as well. I sought out leadership roles, and was voted student council president both my junior and senior years. My father had been an outstanding track star and soccer player, and I dearly hoped to have inherited Dad’s athletic genes. Expending enormous effort in cross-country and track, I pushed those genes to their maximum. But alas, I never broke a five-minute mile.
Park Hill High School Marching Band drum major
During this time I developed several close friends who were excited about following Jesus. I began reading the Bible for myself and found the message very compelling. As a young man, I chose Jesus to be my source of security and the leader of my life. My senior year I read Deliver Us From Evil, the autobiography of Tom Dooley, a US Navy physician who cared for the refugees fleeing from North to South Vietnam in the late 1950s just before the onset of that war. The faith, courage, and compassion of Dr. Dooley’s work cast a vision for my entire life.
College ~ Grad School
In Honduras: the first baby I delivered
Resisting the temptation to study aeronautical engineering, I entered the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine (UMKC). A combined undergraduate and medical school program, I graduated in just six years. While in college, I was part of Icthus Student Ministry of Colonial Presbyterian Church. I also read Evidence That Demands A Verdict by Josh McDowell, and recognizing the power of this book I wondered whether I myself might ever have a theme worthy of writing.
Clinica Evangelica Morava: the most powerful experience of my life to date
Within the context of medical school I created an opportunity to test my interest in medical missions. As a junior medical student, Dr. Sam Marx, a renowned American physician living among the Mosquito indigenous people of eastern Honduras, invited me to work under his supervision for two months at the Clinica Evangelica Morava. I was enamored by Dr. Marx’s lifestyle – by the poverty, new culture, sincere friends, and an opportunity to care for those who would not otherwise receive attention. This became the most formative experience of my life to date.
Shanghai ~ China
Welcome to Shanghai Charity Hospital
Following medical school graduation, I moved to Shanghai, China. Through an affiliation between the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the Shanghai Jiao Tong Medical College, I served for one year as a resident physician in the department of internal medicine of Shanghai Renji (Charity) Hospital. At that time, prior to financial prosperity in China, it was known at the Third People’s Hospital.
Night duty at Shanghai Charity
Many of my patients suffered from tuberculosis, complications of schistosomiasis, and from rheumatic heart disease – illnesses that have since abated in the presence of growing economic development. I studied Mandarin Chinese with vigor, became quite familiar with Marxist philosophy, and created friendships among Chinese students that I continue to enjoy. My experience in China became the genesis for my first published book, Shanghai Doctor (Zondervan, 1991).
Fort Worth ~ Residency
My clinic nurse, Linda, presents my credentials
I moved from Shanghai to Fort Worth, Texas, for my three-year family medicine residency with the University of Texas-Dallas Health Science Center at John Peter Smith Hospital. This program offered particularly outstanding learning opportunities in critical care, complicated obstetrics, general surgery and orthopedics. I also formed pivotal friendships with remarkable colleagues: Joe LeMaster, Lani Ackerman, John Gibson, and Mark Reimer.
Nicholas and Oscar Valdez performing Via Lobos duets
In spite of sometimes-grueling hours, I studied finger-style guitar with Oscar Valdez, became leader in Hope Community Church and renewed my interest in aeronautics by becoming an instrument rated airplane pilot. I also met Teri Huddleston, whose passions were strikingly similar to my own, and we were married.
Angola ~ Africa
Leprosy center at Kalukembe Hospital
After residency, I attended Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, where I was approached concerning Angola, southern Africa. A former Portuguese colony, the nation was best known for its prolonged civil war. The human needs crisis in Angola was enormous, with hunger and preventable disease rampant in this otherwise very fertile nation. In 1988, I accepted a position in Angola, with the International Mission Board, SBC. En route to Angola, I participated in the tropical medicine school at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, DC.
Guiding Angola medical student Horacio Chipiquita
Teri and I next enjoyed a year studying Portuguese in Lisbon, Portugal. On arrival in Angola, we worked the first year at the famous Kalukembe Hospital in southwestern Angola. At least once a week we performed MASH-style triage of wounded soldiers and civilians, and I became intimately familiar with the predominate diseases of poverty: malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, measles and malnutrition. I was also fortunate to be mentored by the model physician staff at Kalukembe: Steve Foster (Canadian), André Rohner (Swiss), and Jean Pierre Brechett (Swiss/Angolan). Ultimately, we located in the city of Huambo (Novo Lisboa), in central Angola, where I partnered with churches of the Evangelical Alliance of Angola to provide mobile clinic services. We emphasized health education, vaccination, prenatal care, and treatment of the most common acute illnesses. Huambo was a prime military target, with attacks nightly against the city’s residents. After just two years I was forced to evacuate my family amid increased fighting and just before the city’s fall to the opposing military forces.
Liberty ~ Missouri
Lemnos, Greece, in the Aegean Sea – my father’s home
I returned from Angola to the Kansas City area, establishing home base in Liberty, Missouri. Teri and I separated soon thereafter, and continue being blessed through our children Elizabeth, James, and Joshua. Elizabeth become a doctoral-level music composer at University of Texas-Austin, James pursued graduate theology learning at Saint Louis University, Josh became the visual media producer for the American Angus Association, and Teri earned wide recognition as an advance practice nurse researcher at the University of Kansas Medical Center. I reinforced lessons learned in Angola about the limitations of curative intervention by completing a master’s degree in public health (MPH) at Saint Louis University and becoming Board Certified in preventive medicine. Always interested in academics, I taught family medicine, including obstetrics, and public health at the University Of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) full-time through 2004.
Nicholas, Josh, Elizabeth and James
I also became part of Shoal Creek Community Church – one whose emphasis is to communicate the message of Jesus in a way especially relevant to our generation. I also developed a relationship with Kanakuk Kamps – a network of Christian summer sports camps on Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri. In cooperation with Kanakuk’s president, Joe White, I authored two books, Darwin’s Demise (Masterbooks, 2001) and Nine Things Teens Need To Know & Parents Are Afraid To Talk About (New Leaf Press, 2006). I also wrote Where Do I Go To Get A Life? (Multnomah Publishers, 1995), Creative Defense (MasterBooks, 2001), and Where Do I Go From Here? Making the right decisions in life (New Leaf Press, 2002).
INMED ~ International
Cindy Obenhaus, myself, Micah Flint, and Elizabeth Burgos
Throughout my adult life I have been passionate about teaching and providing care for the poorest of the poor. But how to marry these passions eluded me. I experienced an epiphany one evening while making a presentation on global health issues at UMKC. I noted the student’s intense interest, my glowing enthusiasm, and how poorly this subject is taught in most venues. My vision for the Institute for International Medicine became clear: a non-profit educational corporation whose mission is to equip healthcare professional to serve the forgotten. In 2004 I departed my full-time teaching duties to devote my career toward developing INMED, buoyed along by the persistent affirmation of my colleagues and friends. I believe strongly in the power of mentoring, and I am encouraged by the number of model healthcare professionals living and serving in low-resource communities who volunteer to supervise INMED’s students. Most heartening of all, I am inspired by the INMED staff: Micah Flint, Skylar Rolf, Elizabeth Burgos, and Cindy Obenhaus, godly and talented individuals who have joined me committing their full-time efforts in leading this movement toward love and good works.
Attending a tuberculosis patient at Kalukembe Hospital
I compiled an essential international health curriculum, INMED International Medicine & Public Health, that INMED published in 2005 and again as a second edition in 2011. Convinced that the best teachers are also active in their fields, I continue serving in Angola each summer at the Lubango Evangelical Medical Center and each fall as visiting faculty for Liaoning International General Health Trainers in Shenyang, China. While INMED commands most of my time and talent, I continue to teach public health at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and to serve as faculty sponsor of the student-lead Cru/Campus Crusade for Christ at our school. Of all men, I am particularly blessed!