Extreme Kayak Athlete Works to Cure Malaria in Africa

ByABC News
April 24, 2006, 5:50 PM

April 24, 2006 — -- Dr. Jessie Stone gave up a medical career in New York and went to the heart of Africa to train in one of the world's most dangerous sports -- extreme kayaking.

"The feeling is like getting to dance with a very powerful beast," said Stone. "Although I really enjoy medicine and love the mental stimulation and the challenge of it, kayaking is my true great passion."

While learning to flip her kayak around, something else threw Stone for a loop during her trip -- the mass suffering she witnessed at the local hospital where she saw children who'd been stricken with malaria.

"In Uganda it's the biggest killer," said Stone. "It's a bigger killer than AIDS here and it's the single biggest killer of children under 5 and pregnant women."

After seeing children suffering from malaria, Stone's doctor instincts came rushing back, and she decided to mix her kayaking pursuits with medicine. She now lives in a tiny shack and leads two very unusual lives.

Part of each day she trains as an extreme kayaker with the goal of becoming a top competitor in the sport. Then she travels through villages teaching malaria prevention.

"You can actually save the lives of children under 5 and pregnant women by having them sleep under a mosquito net," Stone said.

Her charity, Soft Power Health, has provided 7,000 families with nets at a fraction of the price they would pay on the open market.

Stone has also raised enough money to build a clinic run by local doctors and nurses who specialize in treating malaria, AIDS and other diseases.

When asked if she would prefer to practice medicine at home in the United States, she said, "absolutely not.

"I love being outdoors," Stone said. "That I can be in this kind of environment and also give something back to people around me who have so little is much more meaningful to me than any work I could do indoors at a hospital."