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August 22, 2013

Serving a Nation in Need

Living Hope Ministries Photo Gallery

Entering the rural villages in Nigeria is like entering a horror scene. Poverty and illness is everywhere to be seen and millions of people are without any form of medical care.

A village where simple bug bites have taken many lives, and hernias have left individuals incapacitated from their lives - these are the daily struggles of the residents of the Isuikwuato village.

"It is all pretty crazy," Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho said. "There was one guy whose hernia was so bad that his groin area was the size of a soccer ball. His colon, appendix and intestines all fell south because of his untreated hernia and that stress and pressure kept pushing everything internally downward. We had two surgeons tend to this patient, and the surgery took about two and a half hours to complete.

"The surgery team performed 11 to 12 surgeries per day so probably over 120 or so over the course of a week. On top of that, we probably saw 3,000 or so patients during the time we were in Nigeria."

Emmanuel Acho's parents, Dr. Sonny Acho and his wife Christie, have spent the last 20 years traveling to their native country of Nigeria providing much-needed medical care through their organization, Living Hope Ministries.

Living Hope Ministries has inspired people from many different walks of life to support the efforts in Africa, both spiritually and financially. And this summer, Emmanuel Acho was pleasantly surprised to have someone from his past reach out to him about going on the mission trip - Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

"My wife Stephanie had really been pushing to do a mission trip," Manny Diaz said. "We were sitting in church back in May and they were talking about mission trips. I sat there and thought 'I wonder if the Acho's are going to Nigeria.' So I sent Emmanuel a text."

"I was in Philadelphia at the time," Emmanuel Acho said. "And he sent me an arbitrary text that said 'Hey are you going to Nigeria this year?' So I called him and he and his wife were all in.

"I warned him of all of the things he would need to take care of before we left; passports, shots, x-amount of money and he said 'I'll do it.' There were no hesitations or withdrawals on his part. He was all on board."

Between June 21st and July 2nd, people from surrounding villages walked for miles, to line up in the scorching heat with the hope of getting their illnesses treated by the volunteer doctors and surgeons of Living Hope Ministries.

"Imagine 3,000 to 4,000 people all in a line in the hot sun and they understand that behind one door is their heaven, so to speak," Emmanuel Acho said. "Behind one door is medicine that they believe can restore their sight or can cure their cancer. Whether or not they may have some terminal illness, or they just have a bug bite that needs an antibiotic before their arm is eroded, they believe that we have everything that can cure them."

Emmanuel Acho was used to seeing Manny Diaz calling out defenses in 2011, as the Texas Longhorns led the Big 12 against the run and pass. But not even he was prepared for what he saw of Diaz while in Nigeria this summer.

"We came across a woman with full-blown aids who was near death, but Manny was tending to her," Emmanuel Acho said. "We literally carried her inside so we could check her blood pressure and confirm that she had aids. Obviously there was nothing that we could do, other than just pray for her. But the fact that Diaz was there - a guy who has it made - was humbling himself to help the lowly of the lowly, it truly boggles my mind.

"It's a gigantic deal for a coach at a big time program, on a big time stage to use his vacation, which is few and far between, to help people in a foreign country. It's easy to say 'I want to go on that trip.' But it's a lot harder to get on a 17-hour flight and stay with a family you just met, along with 30 other strangers that you don't know, in a country that you have never been to, in a village you have never heard of and live life for ten days.

"To see him take his wife and do that showed me how blessed I was my senior year to be coached by a man like that. I had a coach who had it figured out."

Manny Diaz, who enters his third season as defensive coordinator at Texas, spent part of his off-season visiting Stanford to study one of the nation's top defenses and how it defeated spread teams Oregon and Arizona last season. And then spent his vacation time with his wife on a life-changing mission.

"Manny's a great person," Texas head coach Mack Brown said. "He took his vacation time and spent it helping with the Acho's, which just tells you something about who he is as a person. He wanted to experience what the Acho's have done for their home country. Hearing him talk about the lack of medical care and the amount of people who are dying over there with what we could very easily get medicine for here was eye opening for him, as it would be for all of us."

Diaz is under a lot of pressure heading into the 2013 season after his defense finished as the worst statistically in Texas history in 2012. But the pressures a football coach faces certainly don't compare to what Diaz experienced in Nigeria.

"It's hard to describe in one word," Manny Diaz said. "It was fascinating. It was interesting. It was happy. It was sad. It was the whole spectrum of emotions.

"As most people say, when you do something like that, you're there to serve and you're there to give back but what you get back in return is far more than what you feel like you have given."

Emmanuel Acho, who was traded from the Cleveland Browns to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this year, finds great perspective on his mission trips.

"Witnessing the daily lives of the people in Nigeria is very humbling," Emmanuel Acho said. "As I look across the street at my house in Philly, I can walk to a Walgreens or a CVS or a pharmacy where I can get medicine to cure my headaches or antibiotics for a bug bite, whatever the case may be. In Nigeria, they don't have that. There's no insurance, there are no pharmacies in the rural village that we go to. A bug bite or spider bite can kill you. Just to understand how blessed and fortunate I truly am is always a humbling matter."

The relationship between a player and a coach is typically more business than personal. But helping people in the Isuikwuato village together, created a bond between Acho and Diaz that neither of them had experienced while at Texas.

"It was funny because when we first got there, I kept calling him coach," Emmanuel Acho said. "Everyone else was calling him Manny so I thought, 'Wait, we're kind of peers now, I guess it's ok to call him Manny.'

"It was inspiring to see him out of his element. To see someone who has it made - who could very likely be a head coach at a collegiate level in the United States - spend time in a foreign country to take care of people with terminal illnesses was just awesome."

"It was neat to serve along side a former player," Manny Diaz said. "You have that coach player relationship, but then all the sudden you're just two guys and somebody needs to carry a body back to the recovery room. So you grab a gurney and carry the person together. It was an experience that I certainly will never forget."

The Acho family has recently been recognized by the athleticism of sons and NFL players Sam and Emmanuel Acho. But the Acho's have bigger goals than just those on the gridiron.

"Our goal is to build a permanent hospital, so we can be there year round rather than just once a year," Emmanuel Acho said. "We have already secured the land for the hospital, but the hospital will cost two million dollars. We are encouraging everyone who hears and sees what we are doing to partner with us, spiritually, financially, anything possible."

Dr. and Mrs. Sonny Acho have spent more than 20 years traveling to Nigeria with their sons Emmanuel and Sam Acho. But these travels are far from typical family vacations, as Manny Diaz now can attest.

For more information about Living Hope Ministries and the building of the Living Hope Ministries Hospital in Nigeria, visit www.livinghopeministries.us

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