Andrews Nyantakyi Brings Life-Saving Health Education Back Home to Ghana
When Andrews Nyantakyi, BSN, RN, realized nursing would become part of his future, he also recognized it would become a path back to his past. It led him to establish a nonprofit organization that provides free health education to people in Ghana, where he was born and raised.
As a teen, Nyantakyi was raised primarily by his grandfather, who died when Nyantakyi was still in junior high school. He struggled financially and was even homeless for a while, taking odd jobs as a housekeeper to support himself. He had no way to pay for high school until one day a classmate saw him sitting by the roadside and learned of his situation. The next day, the classmate returned with his parents, who agreed to pay for Nyantakyi’s high school tuition.
With an interest in technology, Nyantakyi began online networking, finding “pen pals,” as he called them, to learn and gain career advice. Among the people he connected with were two Americans who gave him the financial support to finish college with a bachelor’s degree in network security.
The challenges he overcame in Ghana and the support of those sponsors “laid the foundation of who I am now,” Nyantakyi said. In fact, he paid tribute to one of those “ pen pals,” whose last name is Parks, by naming his son Robin Parks.
Change of Plans
Nyantakyi was determined to pay it forward in his home country, but the nursing part of that personal mission was yet to come.
In 2012, Nyantakyi and his wife moved to the United States, where he joined the Navy. He was assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as a corpsman — a role similar to a medical technician — which was one of the few positions he was eligible for prior to being granted citizenship. At the time, he was planning on a post-military career in IT.
“Nursing or a health care career was never something I had considered before,” Nyantakyi said. “The ER nurses [at Walter Reed] provided me with a lot of assistance, and many of them tried to persuade me to consider nursing. However, I was determined to stick with IT, until everything changed on July 20, 2015.”
On that date, his first child, Eliana, was born and experienced meconium aspiration. Nyantakyi credits the keen observation of a nurse and his wife’s attentiveness for saving their daughter. Nyantakyi said he witnessed “exceptional nursing care” for both his daughter and his wife over the course of the baby’s weeklong stay in the NICU.
That pivotal event made Nyantakyi want to be a nurse. And it’s when he realized he could channel what he was learning in the Navy into helping people in Ghana, where “access to health care is almost nonexistent,” he said.
Elijeko Is Born
In 2016, while serving as a hospital corpsman at the Naval Hospital Beaufort in South Carolina, Nyantakyi established the Ghana-based Elijeko Foundation. The name comes from combining parts of his two daughters’ names, Eliana and Jekoliah. The nonprofit organization initially coordinated programs that provide free preventive health education with the help of doctors, nurses and other volunteers from both countries.
Many people in Ghana, a country of about 32 million, do not have access to quality health care. Nyantakyi wanted to help educate the general public as well as train nurses, EMTs, midwives and others to better respond to patients’ needs. Elijeko’s efforts first centered on education about malaria and cholera. The foundation converted shipping containers into “kiosk clinics” and provided care in rural areas.
Elijeko’s mission has evolved over the past few years. The foundation has worked primarily on maternal health, patient safety and CPR. Recently, the organization produced a video on bystander CPR shot on location in a Ghana marketplace, schools and churches to help drive home the fact emergencies can happen anywhere. Nyantakyi continued to spread that message in September when he returned to West Africa for several weeks to teach bystander CPR in communities in Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Benin for several weeks.
“It’s really amazing the reception we’ve received in Ghana,” Nyantakyi said. He estimates that through the support of more than 60 volunteer medical professionals, Elijeko’s education and outreach efforts have helped more than 140,000 people.
In addition, the nonprofit hosts educational call-in radio shows. Edmund Boakye, BSN, RN, CSMRN, who came to the United States from Ghana about two years ago and is a nurse at Stormont Vail Hospital in Kansas, helps produce the radio shows.
“Over here, people are well-informed about their conditions,” Boakye said. “Back home — not as much. There are a lot of people who cannot read or write. Radio and television are one of the ways we can get informed.”
Since Elijeko started, Nyantakyi has completed his bachelor’s degree in nursing, continued to grow the foundation and started a small travel agency with his wife. The revenue from the travel agency goes to support the foundation.
Through Elijeko, Nyantakyi has been able to connect with others who share his passion for helping people in Ghana, including Susan Koduah, PhD, MSN, RN, OCN, one of his nursing instructors. Koduah has her own foundation that supports girls’ and young women’s health education in Ghana and elsewhere. She said she likes to tell her students that nurses not only work at the bedside, but they should help in their communities as well. Nyantakyi and Koduah have worked together at health education events in Ghana, and Koduah has since joined the Elijeko Foundation board of directors.
Koduah praised the work Nyantakyi does to train health workers and first responders in CPR. She knows there is a big need: On a recent trip to Ghana, Koduah recalled talking with a doctor, who told her he couldn’t recall the last time he had renewed his CPR certification.
“[Nyantakyi] has done tremendous work with that,” Koduah said.
Nyantakyi appears to be always ready to teach. In Ghana last year, police pulled him over for speeding. He and his team saw it as a great opportunity to teach more first responders about CPR. So, they pulled their manikins out of the car and gave lessons to the officers on the spot. And no, he didn’t get a ticket.
Nyantakyi’s military service ended in 2020, and he graduated from George Washington School of Nursing in 2022. He said the transition from Naval corpsman to civilian emergency nurse was a bit of a challenge, but he has had “amazing mentors” along the way.
His current supervisor, Justin Hawkins, BSN, RN, clinical director at Inova Loudoun Hospital – Cornwall Campus, said Nyantakyi often receives compliments and DAISY Award nominations from patients.
“With his Navy experience and IT background, he brought a lot of skills to the table,” such as problem-solving and conflict resolution, Hawkins said.
“He really builds a therapeutic relationship” with patients, as well as educates them, Hawkins said. “Patients often leave with a flood of info.”
When it comes to his own education, Nyantakyi said his ENA membership has been very helpful to him, and he especially appreciates the ENA CONNECT Community Huddle, an online discussion board where he has asked or found answers to questions.
While he still is interested in finding ways to incorporate those IT skills he learned in college, Nyaktakyi’s focus now is on continuing to learn about nursing — that is, nursing and paying it forward.