Dr. Ngozika Orjioke was born in 1968 in Southeast Nigeria in Igboduring the Nigerian Civil War. She was born behind a mud hut due to limited accommodations from the war. Her mother was a nurse and her father finished his training to become a diplomat and moved the family to India. She traveled the world for a couple of years and was given a cultural exposure that most are not able to experience in their lifetime.
She attended boarding school for her formative years and then her family moved to England. After she graduated, her parents convinced her to attend medical school in Nigeria at the University of Calabar.After finishing her residency, she married, started a family and took a break from her medical studies. She worked for a couple of years and later moved to Australia and worked in emergency and clinical care. It was during that time that she applied for residency in the United States and took medical exams.
“I decided it was time to chart my own destiny and have a say from a professional perspective,” Orjioke said. “Working for someone else didn’t quite give me the opportunity to do that.”
She began to search for an underserved area in which to practice and settled in East Point, Georgia, where she opened Covenant Pulmonary Critical Care. She discovered a number of patients in that area who needed to be empowered about their health. She has always had a passion about lung cancer and was encouraged by the groundbreaking research on treatment over the years.
“It was no longer a death sentence to have a diagnosis of lung cancer,” Orjioke said. She added that the face of lung cancer had changed from an old man who smoked all of his life, coughed incessantly, suffered significant weight loss to young women who are non-smokers and are diagnosed with the disease.
“Studies have been done that show if you can do early screening for the high-risk group, you can catch these cancers early enough for you to do something and what you did is potentially a cure,” she said.
People who qualify for lung cancer screenings typically range between ages 55 to 80 years old, smoke one pack of cigarettes daily for 30 years or a half a pack daily for 15 years. Orjioke finds it difficult to diagnose potential lung cancer given the surge in youth smoking e-cigarettes or vaping.
“Based on the knowledge we have, we’re seeing that definitely it is associated with lung disease, but how that plays out in terms of lung cancer, I just don’t think we have enough data to add them to the list of people who need to be screened for lung cancer,” she said.
Orjioke came up with the idea of a lung cancer 5K run/walk after she took up running to cope with her father’s death. She ran daily and participated in two to three 5K races monthly. After taking a two-year break from running, she thought the event would be motivation to resume the sport.
The Breathe Easy 5K Run/Walk will occur on November 16, in partnership with the WellStar Foundation at WellStar Atlanta Medical Center South. The funds raised will benefit the underserved community for lung cancer screenings and exams. For more information visit Active.com.