Friday, October 6, 2017

Muriel Ifekwunigwe

A Tribute to Dr. Aaron Ifekwunigwe

A resident of Los Angeles for 43 years, a Nigeria-Biafra War humanitarian, professor, and physician, Dr. Aaron E. Ifekwunigwe, passed away peacefully in Petersburg, Virginia, where he had relocated in September 2016 with his beloved wife of over 58 years, Dr. Muriel Ifekwunigwe. They lived in a multi-generational household with their youngest daughter Dr. Ann Ifekwunigwe and granddaughter Muriel An-Le Ifekwunigwe, and two hours away from their eldest daughter Dr. Jayne Ifekwunigwe-Nwoko, son-in-law Dr. Chris Nwoko and grandson Isaiah Nwoko, who live in Durham, North Carolina. He is also survived by his eldest son, Christopher Aaron Ifekwunigwe of Los Angeles, California, daughter-in-law Janet Ifekwunigwe, grandsons David Ifekwunigwe, Jr., Justin Ifekwunigwe, and Cameron Ifekwunigwe, sisters-in-law Mary Mackinnon and Doreen Freeman, and countless other loving extended family members and friends in Nigeria, Canada, the United States, and England. He joins his dearly departed son David Ifekwunigwe, sisters Grace Ojemeni and Theresa Egbue, brother Richard Ifekwunigwe, and other beloved extended family members.

As a family friend noted: “All the wise and sturdy trees in the forest are falling.” Born in Nando, near Onitsha, Nigeria, to Chief Aaron Nsiegbuna Ifekwunigwe (deceased) and Florence Ugoye Ifekwunigwe (deceased), Dr. Ifekwunigwe is remembered by his lifelong friends and classmates at Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) in Onitsha as a brilliant scholar especially in Chemistry, which earned him the nickname Avogadro (or “Avo”). For as long as he could remember, he aspired to be a physician and he fulfilled this dream by attending medical school at St. Thomas’, which is part of the University of London, and also attained post-graduate degrees at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, Hammersmith Hospital and Edinburgh University. Like many of his generation, after qualifying he took his growing family back to fulfill the hopeful promise of a newly independent Nigeria (1960), where his two youngest children were born. By 1966, “things began to fall apart” as his dear friend Chinua Achebe famously remarked, and the nation was embroiled in the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970), a secessionist movement, which resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent civilians, 89% percent of them were children. As the Director of Biafran Health Services, Dr. Ifekwunigwe valiantly remained on the frontlines when many had fled and developed, but did not seek a patent for “kwashiorkor food mix” prepared from dried skimmed milk, calcium caseinate, sucrose and reinforced with vegetable oil designed to overcome the severe protein-calorie malnutrition that was rapidly decimating the Biafran population. Kwashiorkor food mix has subsequently been used in other famine zones. After the war, Dr. Ifekwunigwe wrote a United Nations Memorandum recommending the resettlement of Biafran refugee children in neighboring Gabon. This humanitarian and child welfare system has since been adopted in other conflict zones.

For three and a half years, he sacrificed his life, and was separated from his wife and four young children, who sought sanctuary in Lancashire, England with his wife’s family. After happily reuniting with his family, he moved them to Cambridge, MA where he completed an MPH at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, based on his Biafran research on protein-deficient malnutrition. Upon completion of his degree, he was offered an academic position at the UCLA School of Public Health in the department of International Population and Family Health. With the late Dr. Derrick Jelliffe and Drs. Alfred and Charlotte Neumann, he was involved in many World Bank and UNICEF projects including in Ecuador, Uganda, Ethiopia, Iran, Thailand and the Philippines. He published widely and presented and consulted extensively at both national and international symposia and conferences. He worked at Charles Drew Medical School before leaving to start a private practice. For 30 years, prior to his retirement, Dr. Ifekwunigwe practiced Family Medicine at Laurel Canyon Urgency Room in North Hollywood, California. He was a devoted physician, and over the years accumulated a multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-generational community of patients.

In 2015, he suffered a stroke, which limited his mobility and speech, but neither his vitality nor his engagement with life. Amid the tranquility of his bucolic Petersburg neighborhood, the welcoming church community at Christ and Grace Episcopal Church, in close proximity to nieces and nephews in Northern Virginia, he was surrounded by loving family. Most importantly, he was in the constant presence of his beloved wife, Muriel, who spared no expense to ensure that he was nurtured, well cared for, and comfortable at all times. A true intellectual, Dr. Ifekwunigwe loved listening to classical music, reading, keeping abreast of current events, and traveling with family, particularly to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. (The photo in the background of this tribute is of Hacienda Del Mar, the resort in Cabo where he loved to vacation.)

He leaves behind a legacy in the hearts and minds of the Biafran children he saved, the medical and postgraduate students he trained, the patients he cared for, and his family and friends, who loved and admired him so deeply. It is poignant that he died on Nigerian Independence Day, which was a fitting tribute to his Igbo family name, Ifekwunigwe, which means “strength in unity, united we are strong.”

A memorial service and celebration of life will take place on Saturday, October 14, 2017 at 2pm at Christ and Grace Episcopal Church, 1545 Sycamore Avenue, Petersburg, VA 23805. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Doctors Without Borders, USA (Medecins Sans Frontieres, USA) in his memory. Please look for the "Tribute" option on the website

Thank you for all your love and support. Letters of condolence, remembrance and appreciation may be sent to: The Ifekwunigwe Family, 1578 Berkeley Avenue, Petersburg, VA 23805, or emailed to To be announced at a later date, a memorial will take place in Los Angeles, CA.