Sixtus Atabong feels compelled to give back after so many people helped him achieve success in the US. The Cameroon native is a neurosurgery physician assistant, an author and speaker, and the man who started a non-profit that works to build medical facilities in impoverished areas of developing countries.
“My life, when I started practicing as a P.A., I realized so many people had helped me and sacrificed for me—not only my parents in Africa, but the people even here in Lubbock, Texas. I thought I would give back. My dad was getting old and he was having some diabetes problems and he ended up losing his leg and I thought and felt that this was my calling. It was time for me to do something. I decided to go back to Cameroon to build a small clinic,” he explains.
That first clinic became a small hospital. And another clinic has also been built in Cameroon. There are also medical facilities in Nicaragua, Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In June, Atabong and others went to Jamaica to explore building another sustainable healthcare facility.
Since 2008, Purpose Medical Mission has raised nearly $5 million through donations from individuals. Atabong says all money that’s raised goes to medical supplies, facility building and equipment.
“It’s just amazing how God has used us to reach out to people around the world and to extend his healing touch. One hundred percent of donations to our organization goes directly to the missions. Everyone who goes on the mission trips pay their way. We don’t have admissions cost because all the board members are volunteers, one hundred percent volunteers,” he says.
Atabong wrote about his journey from poverty in West Africa to becoming a physician assistant here. Published last year, “My Father’s Gift: How One Man’s Purpose Became a Journey of Hope and Healing” has won the Benjamin Franklin and the Nautilus Book awards.
He speaks to school in the Lubbock area on issues such as living a purposeful life, realizing your American dream, financial independence, and race relations.
“It’s turned out, probably the most fulfilling thing that has come out of my book has been opportunities to talk to young kids and to share my story, and to help the kids have a better appreciation for where they are, to teach them how hard work, discipline, self-control, all of those things have values that starts at a very young age.”
Atabong says Purpose Medical Mission volunteers don’t go into areas with a predetermined plan.
“One of the things we talk about, sustainable purposeful medicine, it’s not going there and telling them what we think they need. We find out from them what they need. Then the next question is how can we help? You tell us how we can help, how we can make this partnership sustainable. How can we make sure that we can help you take care of your people?”
Atabong says that when the nonprofit goes into developing countries, they understand there are some in government who are corrupt, which can create difficulties.
“If said no and I give up, I turn away. I’m not turning away from the government officials, I’m turning away from the people that need the help the most. You’ve got to not only build a network and relationship with the people you’re trying to serve, but you have to build a networking relationship with the government officials themselves because not every government official is corrupt.”
Atabong’s work hasn’t escaped notice. He’s gotten the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Hall of Fame Award, an American Red Cross Humanitarian of Year Award. In 2013, he was awarded the PA Service to the Underserved Award by the American Academy of Physician Assistants. He was named 2019 Outstanding PA of The Year by the Texas Academy of Physician Assistants.
Atabong came to Lubbock in 2000. He got his Bachelor’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Sciences and a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. He says he no longer wants to be a doctor.
“I am a P.A. and I’m able to do the things I’ve always dreamt of doing. I don’t need to go back because right now I am doing what I have always wanted to do.”