What you need to know:
- Dr Karuri is a consultant surgeon and currently the medical superintendent at Kapenguria County Referral Hospital in West Pokot.
- He is also a superbike champion and has played rugby for Strathmore and Mean Machine.
Dr David Karuri Maina is a jack of all trades. And a master of all.
Hardly do you get a 10-year-old who already knows he would like to be a surgeon, and is working towards it.
At the age of 10, he was above average — his inquisitive mind would see him dissect lizards, look inside them and stitch them back together.
“For me, my greatest joy was when I put them back together, and they lived for up to four days after the operation… I would be glad I didn’t kill them,” he reflects as we sit down for this interview at an Ethiopian restaurant in Kilimani, Nairobi.
The 39-year-old doctor, last-born in a family of five siblings, is enjoying a cold beer as we speak.
“I never take alcohol two days before I ride,” he quips as he takes a sip of the beer, dragging me deeper into his other life: That of a multiple regional, undefeated, superbike champion.
As I admire his sense of discipline, my seven-year-old son Heri slips as he plays beside our table.
I quickly warn him to be careful and remind him of how he broke his arm last May while playing in similar fashion. The young man was lucky to get immediate attention then at the MP Shah Hospital.
“These injuries happen,” Dr Karuri interjects as I narrate the May accident.
“I once broke my collar bone while playing and it was fixed pretty well,” he adds, attracting me to his other life. That of a rugby player.
One can sit for hours to listen to the amazing story of Dr David Karuri, who is a consultant surgeon and currently the medical superintendent at Kapenguria County Referral Hospital in West Pokot County.
An ‘A’ student, Dr Karuri’s Midas Touch has seen him excel in most things he has ventured into, right from primary school.
He’s a born leader.
In nursery and primary school at Loresho Nursery School and Nairobi Primary School, he was a class prefect, and at Strathmore School, he maintained the status, adding “head boy” to his accolades.
“I was good at football and tennis, and also held school records in butterfly swimming. I was also unbeatable in chess.
“I had a passion for art and craft and I guess that’s where I developed my tactile abilities… I’m very good with my hands.”
Which explains his natural love for surgery that saw him enrol at the University of Nairobi’s School of Medicine in 2002 for a Bachelors of Medicine and Surgery, where he was mentored by the late Prof Hassan Saidi.
Described as a “compassionate mentor,” Prof Saidi taught at the university’s Department of Human Anatomy for 28 years until his death from cancer on August 29, 2017.
“I wanted to be a professional pilot, but one day my father sat me down and asked me — with no offence to pilots — you want to be a driver in the sky?,” Dr Karuri reminisces.
“Then I changed my mind and decided I wanted to become a surgeon, and I used to call myself ‘Dr Elliott’ after one of the famous guys who inspired me at that stage.
“But perhaps my life was shaped at the age of seven when I became growingly inquisitive as I was being treated for fits from the age of five.
“My focus came into light and there was some clarity. I became self-aware and got interested in science and biology.”
In February 2016, Dr Karuri graduated with a Masters of Medicine in General Surgery from the Aga Khan University Hospital’s Department of Surgery.
At the time, his star was already shining after impeccable spells as medical officer (Department of Surgery) at Thika Level Five Hospital and, later, medical officer in charge at Muriranjas Level Four Hospital, a rural sub-county facility with 66 beds in Kiambu County.
Never mind that he was already a superbike champion, had played rugby for Strathmore and Mean Machine in various leagues besides his earlier successes as a swimmer, footballer, chess champion and, later, golfer.
“When I get into ‘the zone,’ I really focus on what I need to do,” he explains.
“And that applies to sport, to surgery, to management, to leadership and all I do.
“In a nutshell, my primary school days were the makings of what I eventually turned out to be – I was top of class all through.”
Something that has rubbed off his son — eight-year-old Jordan Maina Karuri, the second born of Dr Karuri’s three children, the eldest Grace Wanjiku Karuri being 10 and youngest, Esther Wangui Karuri — five.
Dr Karuri’s wife Annabelle Wangechi Gichohi is a dentist currently specialising in prostodentics.
“After I showed them my school report cards, Maina wanted to be like me and is currently the fastest in his class in sprints, and he’s very smart as well... I guess a chip off the old block.”
It was while at the medical school that he developed his passion for superbikes.
Basically, on average, a superbike can reach a top speed of 190 to 200 kilometres, or more, per hour, and it requires a lot of skills and maturity to ride at such speeds.
“On weekends, I used to volunteer at a friend’s garage. He’s called Steve Das and we are still very good friends. In fact, he’s the one who services my race bikes to date.
“I learnt a lot. We used to fix bikes to an extent that, with my inquisitive mind, I decided to study more about them.
“I bought my first bike when I was a third year student. I’d been saving the allowances I was being given by my father until it was enough to buy a bike.”
Banking on his relationship capital, Dr Karuri boarded a bus to Kampala, and on to a village called Katu where he bought a Honda bike and loaded it onto a truck for a two-day trip back to Kenya.
And that was the beginning of his passion for superbikes that has seen him win the East Africa Superbike Championships for the last four years.
He currently leads this year’s championship and is on course to bagging his fifth title.
Dr Karuri was to later become a victim of his own success in the medical sphere.
As a medical officer in the Department of Surgery at Thika Level Five Hospital, he lifted its standards.
Having also trained in obstetrics and gynaecology, besides surgery, both departments at the Thika hospital were fighting for his services.
“In surgery, we were three officers while in obstetrics and gynaecology there were five,” he recalls, his tactile development having seen him build skills to complete a successful Caesarean-Section delivery in just 12 minutes!
“I told the head of department, respectfully, that while I appreciate obstetrics and gynaecology, and I see its value, and while I’m good at it, I want to do surgery because surgery has been in my blood since I was 10 and everything I do is deliberate towards that objective.”
He was then asked to find a replacement in the obstetrics and gynaecology department to free him for surgery.
“I told him I would even make things easier: ‘Let me go to surgery, and bring the three doctors there to obstetrics and gynaecology so they will be seven and I will be alone in surgery’.”
That caught his colleagues by surprise, but Dr Karuri stunned them even further by running the surgery department alone, successfully, for one year and eight months!
And in that period, from 2008 to 2009, Dr Karuri also developed the first trauma registry and published it, piloting it at the hospital’s casualty department.
It’s currently being used as a pilot project for trauma registries in Kenya.
He also developed an implant generation network for fixing fractures, running a professional development programme and completely streamlining operations in surgery.
“After the one year and eight months, I was called to the office of the Provincial Director of Medical Services, and told: ‘Dr Karuri, you are doing very well and we’re going to give you a sub-district hospital to run.’”
And just like that, he was transferred to Muriranjas Level Four Hospital in Kiharu Sub-county, Murang’a County. To which he didn’t object, instead looking at the silver lining and fresh opportunities under the late Dr James Ndegwa Kigo, who was then the medical superintendent at Murang’a District Hospital.
“After two years, you could not recognise that hospital,” he recalls.
“I had done proposals to the Ministry of Health for various projects.
“We were the first hospital in that area to have a refrigerated mortuary, with carbro parking, and I also renovated doctors’ houses to help attract medical officers to stay.”
At Muriranjas, Dr Karuri also renovated a vasectomy theatre to a fully-fledged theatre and conducted a Caesarean-Section operation for the first time at the hospital since its inception in 1932.
Besides that, he opened a four-cot newborn unit, launched a five-acre kitchen garden to help meet the hospital’s food needs and installed a new generator with enough power to light up the neighbouring village.
He was rewarded with a scholarship for his Masters studies in surgery, selected among three from 82 applicants at the Department of Surgery at the Aga Khan University Hospital.
In 2016, he received a call from Health Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri. This was after West Pokot County government head-hunted him for his services.
“He told me, ‘daktari, you are a victim of your own success. I’m told there is no other place you are going except West Pokot.’”
The county hadn’t had a surgeon for three years.
Dr Karuri was then employed as deputy medical superintendent at the Kapenguria County Referral Hospital, and, driven by passion for public service, he gained promotion to superintendent in 2020.
He was touched by the economic plight of the people of West Pokot, and their need for medical services.
“You operate on one person in West Pokot, and they bring you six eggs and simply say thank you... there’s no amount of money you can be given to show such gratitude.”
Once again, Dr Karuri’s passion and leadership has since transformed the hospital in Kapenguria.
“We did the first-ever successful brain surgery west of Eldoret and east of Kisumu in West Pokot County.”
The 2018 surgery saved the life of a boda boda rider.
And last year, Dr Karuri performed the first breast cancer operation at the hospital.
When Covid-19 broke out, Dr Karuri quickly studied how to mitigate against the virus in a resource-limited environment, transforming an amenities ward he had developed in 2016 into a Covid-19 treatment ward.
The hospital’s six-bed ICU and 10-bed Covid-19 treatment centre is the only one in the county and supports the region as well, with an isolation centre at Aramaket, some three kilometres from the Kapenguria County Referral Hospital in Makutano.
“Right now we are in the process of building a state-of-the-art radiology department, I’ve developed an ICU based on learnings from my tours abroad.”
Based on Dr Karuri’s proposal, the radiology department project was recently granted Sh66 million by the Kenya Devolution Support Programme.
It’s one of the few public hospitals in Kenya and only one in the county with oxygen piping to every patient.
When I visited Dr Karuri at the Kapenguria hospital recently in the company of colleagues Jared Nyataya and Bernard Rotich, he was quite at ease and never appeared pressured by work.
He even afforded to take questions, show us around the hospital, and host us for lunch.
Our visit was only interrupted by a 5pm operation he had to perform to remove a lump from a patient’s breast, with anaesthetist Thomas Leting and Chege Kimani, a medical officer, assisting in the surgery.
With no previous experience in the World Rally Championship (WRC), Dr Karuri and his team of medics, headed by another avid biker, Dr Raj Jutley, have built the WRC Safari Rally medical department to world-class standards.
Just last month, Dr Karuri’s name was proposed for a position in the medical committee of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), the body that governs world motorsport.
His expertise also saw him engaged in the medical teams for the recent World Athletics Under-20 Championships, this after WRC Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi and Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed had recruited him to the rally’s medical operations team.
With the restrictions in sports brought about by Covid-19, Dr Karuri’s team developed a sports protocol, most significantly coming up with a “multi-bubble” approach that saw the creation of several restricted zones, as opposed to one “bubble” as has been common practice globally.
“That was unprecedented! Even organisers of the Tokyo Olympic Games were calling to ask how we pulled it off,” he explains.
So successful was the Kenyan Covid-19 protocol that at the under-20 championships, the positivity rate was just 1.6 per cent.
“We used the same protocol for the Deaflympics Championships and the positivity rate was zero per cent, the same as the Kip Keino Classic (zero per cent).
“We modified the protocol for the WRC Safari Rally and there was a 0.3 per cent positivity rate.”
Dr Karuri and team are in the process of patenting the protocol that was developed out of a morning coffee break he had with then Sports CS Amina Mohamed’s Chief of Staff Rose Wachuka and World Under-20 Championships Medical Director Jared Nyakiba.
“We are patenting because it (protocol) can be used anywhere – for public gatherings, political rallies, at delegates’ conferences,...,” he explains.
The same protocol was used ahead of Team Kenya’s trip to the Tokyo Olympic Games in July where none of the Kenyan delegation tested positive for Covid-19.
“BladeDoc”; his patented nickname on the superbike scene, Dr Karuri is certainly a jack of all trades and has been able to successfully juggle and master all!
He’s currently angling for a Masters in Public Policy “to get an opportunity to fix things further”.
Prior to our interview last week, Dr Karuri had just returned from The Netherlands , where he attended training in latest techniques of handling motorsports emergency, also sampling the new hybrid rally cars that will be launched next year.
“BladeDoc” barely rested as, at the moment, he is back in Kapenguria, where he has been supervising a week-long cleft lip and cleft palate surgery clinic for more than 30 children at Kapenguria County Referral Hospital organised by the Kenya Society of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons.
“We did two camps in 2019 and this year we hope to do at least 30 surgeries. Those are 30 lives that will never be the same again... ”
The Kapenguria hospital also runs regular fistula camps, and Dr Karuri is grateful for the support he continues to receive from his boss, Governor John Lonyangapuo.
“When people come here, they can’t imagine they are in Kapenguria with the facilities they see,” he leans back, takes another sip of his cold beer with a sense of satisfaction as he reflects on his current success story in West Pokot.
“By the way I was also the youngest chairperson ever of the health committee at the Loresho Community Church… It’s all about service to others,” concludes Dr Karuri, who also runs bike riding and safety clinics at the BladeDoc Riding School.