Immigrant Veterinarian Overcomes Incredible Odds to Succeed

~ By Marjorie A. Wallwey ~

This photo shows Dr. Atakem in the surgery of his newly-established practice, Liberty Animal Hospital in Westminster, CO

This photo shows Dr. Atakem in the surgery of his newly-established practice, Liberty Animal Hospital in Westminster, CO

If I may, I’d like to tell *you* a story…

A French-speaking boy grows up in the war-torn African nation of Chad. He’s bright and eager. He wants to become a doctor. Even with parents who earned master’s degrees, there’s simply no money for college — and there’s no such thing as student loans in Chad. But he won’t give up.

He applies for 50 scholarships at colleges and universities around the world. He gets no offers. But he won’t give up.

He comes to realize that the challenge of being a veterinarian suits him better. There are two scholarships available in his entire country to go to vet school. He applies and wins one. The vet school is in Senegal — more than 2,000 miles away. But he won’t give up.

He moves away from his family, studies diligently, and earns his degree. His dream now is to emigrate to the United States and build a veterinary practice there. He has an uncle who lives in Colorado. That’s more than 5,000 miles away. But he won’t give up.

He emigrates to the United States and arrives speaking only French. He moves in with his uncle. The uncle runs a gas station and wants the young man to work for him for $300 a month. When the young man tells his uncle he is determined to follow his dream, his uncle tells him he’s doomed to fail and will never amount to anything. He has to move out. But he won’t give up.

He cannot take the veterinary licensing exams until he can read and write English well enough. He takes the English competency test and is unable to pass all of the sections the first time. And the second time. And the third time. But he won’t give up.

He connects with Ray Cox, DVM, a distinguished veterinarian and co-founder of Deer Creek Animal Hospital in Littleton. Dr. Cox is so impressed by the young man, he takes him under his wing. Not only does Dr. Cox provide him with an externship and a place to live, he also co-signs the young man’s student loan to solidify his skills at Kansas State University…and lends him $20,000 from his own pocket.Then, he trains him to become an expert in performing single-port, minimally-invasive, laparoscopic surgical procedures that are clinically proven to provide for smaller incisions, less pain, increased intra-operative safety, superior intra-operative visualization, and faster recovery.

That young man passed the English exam. And the veterinary licensing exam. And he’s already paid back his student loan.

That young man is Aristophane Atakem. He just opened Liberty Animal Hospital in Westminster (5044 W 92nd Ave, Westminster, CO 80031; phone 720-306-9900; www.libertyanimalhospital.com). And I think his story is one that your readers would appreciate.


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