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HomebioCatherine Nyongesa: The Billionaire Doctor Who Founded Texas Cancer Centre

Catherine Nyongesa: The Billionaire Doctor Who Founded Texas Cancer Centre

By Kamau Kuria

Dr. Catherine Nyongesa Naliaka Watta is a Clinical Oncologist and Head of Department at the Kenyatta National Hospital Cancer Treatment Center. She is also the founder and Chief Oncologist at the Texas Cancer Centre. Growing up in hardship and facing tumultuous experiences, she summoned all her willpower and rose from grass to grace. WoK went exploring the life of the first and only radiation oncologist in Kenya and one of Kenya’s High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) and presents you this interesting profile. 

Age

Dr. Catherine was born in 1970 in Ebosiso village in Bungoma County to a humble family that lived on their inherited ancestral land. Her family was also large, with her parents tasked with the heavy responsibility of raising ten children.

Early Education

As a young girl, little Catherine Naliaka dreamed of one day being a doctor. When her father took her to join high school, she reiterated this dream promising to work hard to realize it. 

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Her performance in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education was exemplary earning her a place at the University of Nairobi to undertake a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) degree. Her father sold their ancestral land to afford the university fees leaving the family with nothing to their name but the hope and faith that Catherine would soar high. 

She saw this opportunity and sacrifice for what it was and delved into her books. Graduating in 1995, her family was elated and the following year, she landed her first job that paid Ksh 12,000 in monthly salary. Naliaka says that this is what her family back at home depended on saying; “I realized that I needed to work extra hard to support them [siblings]. My parents were poor having sold the land.” With this in mind, she joined chamas in an effort to get an additional stream of income. 

Catherine Nyongesa: The Billionaire Doctor Who Founded Texas Cancer Centre
A Cancer patient Gifts Dr. Catherine Nyongesa A Rooster To Show Her Appreciation Image/Courtesy

Graduate Scholarship 

At the same time, she was looking for opportunities to advance her education and in 2002, lady luck smiled upon her and she was awarded the International Atomic Energy Agency scholarship to pursue her Oncology Master’s degree in the University of  Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Catherine Nyongesa spent three years in the university’s Radiation Oncology residency program graduating in 2005. With a Master of Medicine in Radiation oncology, she was later elected a Fellow of the College of Radiation Oncologists of South Africa.

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Early Career

Back in Kenya, Dr. Catherine who was now officially Kenya’s first woman radiation oncologist, worked at the Kenyatta National Hospital attending to cancer patients from all walks of life. The challenges that faced her patients in the public institution broke her heart. The hospital at that time only had two radiotherapy machines intended to serve the hundreds of sick patients that streamed in on a daily basis.

Dr. Catherine in a past interview commented on this state of affairs saying, “I see a lot of cancer patients suffering. I had a firsthand experience with my sister whom I had a challenging time taking care of.” This was also informed from her challenging experience taking care of her sister Cimmonne Nyongesa, who was diagnosed with Uterine Cancer. 

Texas Cancer Center (TCC)

With the incredibly huge gap in the treatment of cancer patients at the Kenyatta National Hospital evident in some patients waiting up to two years to receive expensive treatment, Dr. Catherine sought to provide affordable and timely services. This was the birthing of the Texas Cancer Center in 2010 that she set up with her husband Samson W. Watta, a pharmacist based in Houston, Texas. When asked about the choice of name, she said that despite being quite random, they chose it as that was where the institution’s co-founder was based and that the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, a globally acclaimed cancer center, inspires her in its service delivery. 

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The institution came into the limelight in 2012 when the late Martin Shikuku, a Kenyan politician, was receiving treatment at the center. Dr. Catherine and her husband would, later on, take a Ksh 100 million bank loan to expand the institution into its second location, acquiring more machinery, and scaling operations. The couple also received support from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in equipping the facility. The institution has grown to have four locations (main offices are along Mbagathi Way) in Nairobi and Eldoret providing the following world-class care services:

  • Out-Patient Clinic
  • 24- hour inpatient care and ambulance services
  • Pain and palliative care clinic
  • Cancer testing and screening
  • Chemotherapy
  • Linear Accelerator radiotherapy
  • Radioactive iodine treatment
  • Nutrition and Counseling
  • Physiotherapy and rehabilitation

The TCC also has a cancer support group named The Uwezo Cancer Survivor Support Group and free counseling services for cancer patients and those affected. 

Additional Responsibilities and Awards

Not only does Dr. Catherine run the facility, but she is also an honorary lecturer at the University of Nairobi, a consultant radiation oncologist at KNH, and belongs to several organizations. These include the Kenya Society of Hematology and Oncology that she chairs,  the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the International Gynecologic Cancer Society, and the Health Professions Council of South Africa. 

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From her commitment to alleviating the pain of cancer patients, she has been recognized for her efforts receiving several awards such as the 2008 IGCS Traveling Scholarship Award, the 2009 International Development Award- ASCO, and the 2011 Conquer Cancer Foundation award.

Family Life and Personal Challenges

Dr. Catherine is married to Samson W. Watta, with whom she has three children. One of her children, a daughter, is following in her steps as she studies Medicine at Pamona College in the States.

She says that running the TCC along with additional responsibilities have not been short of challenges saying, “It is very hard. Friends keep telling me that I need counseling because I deal with a lot of difficult stuff. However, my dream and passion to make a notable difference in someone else’s life is my main drive.” 

Net worth and Property

Dr. Catherine Nyongesa has grown to be one of Kenya’s wealthiest women, and was named as one of the top women taxpayers in the country whose annual income ranges between Sh350 million and Sh1 billion. Today she drives her dream car, a Toyota Land Cruiser V8 upgrading from a Mazda 323 to a Toyota Corolla, a Toyota RAV4, and Toyota Prado.

Salary

According to businessdaily, her salary is Sh870,000 a month.