Serving the public: the lifelong dedication of an equestrian doctor
For doctor Jumatay Awbakirule, horseback riding is an integral part of his daily routine. For almost three decades, the Kazakh has cared for patients in a desolate mountainous region, without access to electricity or television.
He works at the Bozadar Ranch Health Center, a small clinic on a winter ranch in Tekes County, northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It meets the medical needs of more than 2,000 shepherds. Fortunately, the community can count on Jumatay, who gives priority to his patients, even at the risk of his own life.
Jumatay does not have the luxury of sitting in his office and waiting for patients. He often had to travel long distances to their home on horseback over dangerous terrain of slippery ice and steep cliffs. But the cold and difficult travel conditions did not deter him. It answers patient calls over and over again, regardless of the cost.
He remembers a cold winter night around 1997 and 1998, when he was awakened by a shepherd knocking anxiously on his door.
The shepherd told the doctor that his child had a very high fever and could not even get out of bed. The couple left immediately for the Shepherd’s House, in the middle of the night when the freezing temperatures posed extreme challenges.
A narrow cliff slowed the two riders as they approached their destination, forcing them to dismount and walk to guide their horses.
But the Doctor’s horse slipped and fell off the cliff, dragging Jumatay down.
The horse tumbled 80 to 100 meters down the rocky slope and died while Jumatay suffered permanent knee damage. “My leg was hurting so much,” he recalls.
Despite the pain, Jumatay managed to get to the shepherd and nursed the child.
During his medical career, the doctor estimates to have traveled more than 260,000 kilometers in service in conditions similar to those which he was confronted that night. He was nicknamed “the plane,” after taking a very risky shortcut that drastically reduced the time he spent running to a pregnant woman who was having a miscarriage.
Three decades later, better roads are being built. And residents can access electricity through solar power and generators. To ensure safety, medical staff are now grouped into teams of three or four for outings deep in the mountain. Still, Jumatay wonders if the newly recruited doctors are up to the challenges he faced years ago.
In 1992, when he first joined the clinic, he was baffled by the harsh conditions and did not want to stay there. Then freshly graduated from university, he returned to his hometown without notifying the director of the clinic.
His father, also a doctor at the clinic, reminded Jumatay that he is the grandson of a shepherd and that the duty of doctors is to help people. Soon after, Jumatay decided to stay.
Today, he still carries his 42-year-old father’s medical kit and hopes his children can replace him when he’s too old to cross the mountains.
Two of Jumatay’s children study medicine and say they are proud of their father, who has received the title of “most beautiful doctor in the village” and countless other honors.
Even though there will always be the same challenges for the children of Jumatay, their job may become easier as China has dramatically improved its health system.
From 2018 to 2020, the National Health Commission put in place a smart hospital framework that allows all residents of poor counties, including those where Jumatay works, to be cared for online by doctors. As China continues to prioritize building community-level medical and health services, clinics like the Bozadar Ranch Health Center have also undergone profound changes.
Jumatay, who has spent some time learning traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), plans to open a combined TCM hot spring division at a clinic that previously had only the most basic equipment.