Mutombo gives $15 million for hospital in Congo

NEW YORK -- Dikembe Mutombo will fulfill a lifelong dream
soon, opening a hospital in the Congo named for his late mother.

The Houston Rockets center, who donated $15 million to the
project, will open the doors to the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital
and Research Center on Sept. 2. The 300-bed hospital will provide
health care to people in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic
Republic of Congo, where Mutombo was born.

"We were very close," Mutombo said Monday in a telephone
interview. "To do something of this caliber in the name of your
beloved mom, it will mean a lot not just to me but to the people of

He created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation in 1997, the year his
64-year-old mother died. She was unable to get to the hospital
because streets were closed due to civil unrest. His father,
Samuel, was turned back from the hospital, just 10 minutes away.

"My mom played a big role, giving us all the tools to make us
great human beings," Mutombo said of his nine siblings. "She did
what moms are supposed to do -- raise a child with a good
understanding of life."

The $29 million hospital and research center will include a
pediatric wing, surgery suites and a women's center.

The health care crisis continues in the Congo, where one of five
children dies before age 5. Malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis,
measles and cholera have reached epidemic proportions and continue
to infect millions of adults and children. The average life
expectancy is 42 years for men and 47 for women.

"Malaria is taking more lives than any other disease,
especially children under age 5," he said.

Mutombo had a life-threatening bout of malaria after returning
from the Congo in 1999. He had a "huge headache" and passed out
after an early season game. His temperature rose to 104 degrees
while at a suburban Boston hospital, but after 12 hours the doctors
couldn't determine what was wrong until a Kenyan intern entered his

"Brother, are you from Africa?" she asked. "Which spot?"

When she heard Congo, she asked if he'd been home lately. He'd
been back the previous month.

"She saved my life," Mutombo said. "We got the malaria
results 40 minutes later. We waited two hours for the malaria
medicine from the CDC [in Atlanta]. I wish I knew her name to thank

Mutombo came to the U.S. in 1987 on an academic scholarship to
attend Georgetown. As a premed major, he expected to return to the
Congo as a doctor.

In his second year, Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson
invited the 7-foot-2 Mutombo to try out for the team. He grew up
loving soccer, but eventually came around to basketball under
Thompson's guidance.

"He took me by his wing," Mutombo said. "He made me who I
became today, he's like a father figure to me. I don't call him
'Coach,' I call him 'Pop.' He gave me all the tools to succeed --
maturity and education."

Georgetown was ranked No. 1 and reached the final eight twice in
his three years of play. He was Big East defensive player of the
year, averaging 15.2 points, 12.2 rebounds and 4.71 blocks his
senior year.

College basketball altered his plans to become a doctor, and he
graduated instead with degrees in linguistics and diplomacy. He
speaks English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and five African

Mutombo has averaged 10.6 points and 10.8 rebounds in his
15-year career.

Now he's satisfied to assist on the medical front. His goal is
to get 100,000 people to contribute $10 a month on his Web site to
support the hospital and research.

"I'm still a doctor, serving the people," Mutombo said.