Inspired to make a difference - Survivor of Rwandan ethnic conflict committed to serving where the need is greatest

Vital Signs » Spring 2014
photo of Diane Bizimana

Diane Bizimana always wonders why her life was spared during the 1994 ethnic conflict in Rwanda.

Diane, was seven years old when the conflict in Rwanda erupted in 1994. “Did I need to see and take all those memories with me so that I will speak for those lives, lost senselessly?”

While the memories are painful for Bizimana, who is a second-year medical student at the Boonshoft School of Medicine, she wants some good to come out of what she experienced. “I would not change my sad story,” said Diane, who was born in Rwanda and immigrated to the United States in 2007. “It has made me who I am today.”

Her mother and aunt almost died in a large fire but escaped when her father rescued them. Her family was forced to flee to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two years later as they returned to her homeland of Rwanda, snipers attacked them, forcing them to hide among banana trees. A bullet whizzed by her and struck the woman next to her. Within minutes, she died in front of Diane, who was then nine. “I could not do anything,” she said recalling “I decided at that moment I wanted to be a doctor.”

Even after the conflict ended, Rwanda was marked by insecurity. Her family suffered more bloodshed. People rushed into her cousin’s house and killed his whole family. Her cousin was shot, but he survived with a bullet lodged in his ribs. “He is slowly dying. He is usually in a lot of pain,” said Diane, explaining that there are not enough surgeons in Rwanda. “When I can, I will remove the bullet surgically.”

Diane followed her father and his family to Dayton, Ohio. “I came here to be with the other half of my family and to get a better education,” said Diane, who has 12 siblings. Scholarships helped her finance her undergraduate education at Wright State University.

“I don’t think I could have completed my undergraduate studies at Wright State University without scholarships,” she said.

Scholarships also have helped her pay for her education at the Boonshoft School of Medicine, where she is secretary of the James B. Peoples, M.D., Surgical Society; curriculum co-chair of the Global Health Initiative program; a volunteer with Reach Out of Montgomery County, a clinic that provides access to health care to the underserved and uninsured; and a tutor for Rwandan and Burundian refugees in Dayton.

She received an Armed Forces Health Professional Scholarship in 2013. As part of her commitment to the U.S. Army, she will serve as a surgeon for five years after her residency. Then, she plans to continue to practice general surgery in the United States, but she wants to return to Rwanda for a month out of each year to do pro bono surgery. Eventually, she wants to build a hospital in Rwanda or another country in Africa. “I need to help, but I need to help in the places where I am needed the most,” Diane said.

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Last edited on 09/22/2015.