By PL JETER
When Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer proclaimed Dec. 10, 2016, as Dr. Banji Awosika Day for his contribution to nephrology, hypertension and kidney dialysis through preventive care, only a few folks knew his stellar medical career was almost sidelined in medical school.
The son of a diplomat born in Cairo, Egypt, Awosika moved with his family during childhood to Japan and the United Kingdom before relocating to Nigeria to study at the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital College of Medicine. There, he stumbled not because of academic difficulty, but as a casualty of academic politics. University staff strikes led to temporary closures of the medical school. During one closure, Awosika gave it up and worked as a cabbie in London.
"Things were tough financially, and I really didn't want to go back to medical school," admitted Awosika, who planned to stay in the U.K. with his brother for a couple of months and instead stayed a year. In his spare time, he played the saxophone, practiced martial arts and participated in marathons. "I'd planned to leave medicine behind but then a funny thing happened. Conversations with my passengers almost always led to discussion about medicine and their problems. We'd delve into what could be done to improve their situation. They kept asking why I left medicine. It came so naturally to me."
Spurred by their encouragement, Awosika completed medical school in Nigeria, and then worked as a physician in Trinidad and Tobago, and a psychiatrist in the U.K. He emigrated to the United States in 1994, completing residencies in internal medicine and nephrology at St. John Hospital & Medical Center in Detroit, Mich. In 1994, he relocated to Orlando with his wife, Tejumade St. Matthew-Daniel, DDS, and acquired a small practice that quickly grew in patient volume and good reputation. Last November, he opened his own kidney dialysis facility, West Orange Dialysis Services, part of West Orange Nephrology.
Awosika, who calls himself a nephrologist by trade, considers himself a wellness physician and a staunch supporter of preventive care.
"I tell patients they didn't inherit a gene that caused them to have kidney disease; they inherited a behavior, one that was passed down from their parents and their parents' parents," said Awosika, a father of three - Olajire, Obatimilehin, and Obasindara. "This is why diseases run in families."
Awosika introduced a wellness clinic component of his practice with an in-house nutritionist/dietician who helps patients modify their eating habits and lifestyle. His motto: "We become what we eat." Recently, cooking classes were introduced to create a forum for families to learn to live healthier through food preparation. "It's not complicated. Focus on what you're eating," he tells participants. "Don't eat passively. Don't eat for comfort. Eat for health."
He encourages family participation in local 5k and 10k runs, insists on smoking cessation, and sings the praises of proper rest. "Don't get sedentary," he tells patients. "The body has been wired to be worked out. If you don't, the body will short-circuit. It's really that simple."
As importantly, Awosika points out the value of good relationships. "Good relationships are crucial for a healthy lifestyle, whether it's a spouse, children, good friends, a higher being ...," Awosika emphasized.
Awosika's efforts have resulted in phenomenal reversals of disease. "Some patients take two or three visits to become compliant with lifestyle changes; others take eight or nine visits," he said. "We're constantly bombarding them with information to change their lifestyles. I've just written a second book detailing these facts. We try different ways to support our patients in alignment with our vision. Because of our persistence, repeated through social media, we're getting some great results."
It's not uncommon for Awosika to bump into strangers at local farmer's markets, who introduce themselves and share their success stories. "'One guy came up to me and told me that he embarked on lifestyle changes that I recommended to his cousin. He was proud to tell me, 'now I'm down to one medication from five.' The goal for me is to reach as many people as possible, through whatever means I can muster, with this message."