Taking on the world

A Sullivan Award recipient from Chad overcomes a language barrier. Now he plans to take on malaria back home

For many people, graduating from college and landing that first job is the ultimate goal. For 2018 University of Kentucky grad Esias Bedingar, his ultimate goal is a little bigger—he wants to eradicate malaria in his home country of Chad.

The grand scale of his humanitarian ambitions has earned him many honors at UK, including a Sullivan Award.

“It’s a big issue, with so many consequences on the economy and social aspect of the Chadian population,” says Bedingar. “I really want to combine my clinical and research experiences together to try to do something about it.”

It’s a seemingly herculean task, but those who know Bedingar know this goal is not out of his reach. The native French speaker knew absolutely no English when he came to UK from N’Djamena, Chad in 2014. Four years later, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public health (with a minor in neuroscience) and began the master of public health program in global health and population health at Harvard University that fall. After Harvard, he plans to attend medical school.

Esias Bedingar’s father, Touba Bedingar, graduated from UK 30 years before his son.

A family tradition

Bedingar first came to UK because of his father, Touba Bedingar, who earned master’s and doctoral degrees in agricultural economics from UK 30 years ago.

“It’s thanks to UK that my father became successful,” says Bedingar. “I hope to be as successful as he is right now. Getting a degree here at UK means a lot to me. I came here with no English, now I’m graduating from college here at UK, and I’m going to Harvard. It’s just like a dream.”

Bedingar spent his first semester at UK in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. After that, he officially began his UK coursework. While he knew he eventually wanted to go to medical school and study the brain, he also wanted to find a way to combine medicine with population health. After a visit home to Chad in 2016, his goals became even more clear.

“The prevalence of malaria in Chad is 30 percent, and 40 percent of all deaths in Chad are due to malaria,” he says. “So I said, ‘I think I can do something about it.’”

Bedingar works with his mentor, Associate Professor Yang Jiang of UK’s Department of Behavioral Science, to study Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia to further his knowledge in the medical field

Delivering the medicine and the message

It was then Bedingar founded Motocross for Malaria, a nongovernmental organization that provides antimalarial treatments and educational materials to people in rural areas of Chad.

“Right now, we’re working on prevention, specifically developing booklets in order to educate people on how to protect themselves from malaria using mosquito nets and other kinds of malaria vector controls,” he says. “Motocross for Malaria fills my heart with joy because I can dream of a better country. Eradicating malaria will stimulate economic growth and unlock human potential in Chad, and that is why it has become my lifetime goal.”

Bedingar presents his research on Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia

Servant Scientist

During his four years at UK, Bedingar took on many leadership positions, including president of the African Student Association, senator in UK Student Government, and ambassador with the UK International Center. He also founded a chapter of the American Mock World Health Organization on campus.

As a Chellgren Student Fellow and student in the UK Lewis Honors College, Bedingar discovered his passion for research. He spent his last year studying how cerebral malaria can be a future risk factor for different types of neurodegenerative diseases.

“I was trying to link infectious disease and chronic disease — this is something that no one did before,” he said. “I want to try to see if malaria can be a source for the development of brain disorders or brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia or other types of neurodegenerative diseases.”

Bedingar worked on an honors thesis with his mentor, Associate Professor Yang Jiang of UK’s Department of Behavioral Science, studying Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia to further his knowledge in the medical field. By using electrophotography, he learned how vascular dementia can affect memory and learning capacities.

“It’s because of all of those experiences that now I can combine public health and neuroscience together,” says Bedingar. “UK is pretty intensive in terms of academic preparation. I feel like that’s why I’m not scared to go to Harvard, because I feel like I am prepared to study there thanks to the education that I got here at UK. Academically, I think I’m ready.”

T Esias Bedingar receives a Sullivan Award from Sullivan Committee member Larry Grabau during UK’s University Honors and Recognition Awards Program April 11, 2018. Photo by Mark Cornelison of UK

Honors well-earned

In addition to his Sullivan Award, Bedingar received UK’s Otis A. Singletary Outstanding Senior Award. He participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University, the World Bank Group Youth Summit, and volunteered in hospitals in both Lexington and Chad.

In the face of adversity, Bedingar says having his father as his role model, along with his faith and the desire to help people, keep him motivated.

“Looking at (my father) working hard, and not complaining about what happens in life—everything happens for a reason and you just have to move forward and work hard,” he says. “I cried and asked why, but you work hard and finish the thesis, or learn English. It’s just believing in yourself, that you can do it, and then you will do it. This is simply how I did it.”

This article was adapted from a piece that originally appeared on the University of Kentucky’s news site. To read the original, or learn more about UK, visit uknow.uk.edu.

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