Expelled from their home country of Uganda as young adults, Dr. Zaby Vyas and her husband Suree are now paying forward the support they received during their remarkable journey.
In the summer of 1972, Dr. Zaby Vyas had just finished medical school at Uganda’s Makerere University when the military dictator Idi Amin abruptly ordered the expulsion of the country’s Asian population, giving them 90 days to get out. She and her husband, Suree, left everything they couldn’t fit in their suitcases and fled to England.
It might be the opening of a novel, and the pair’s remarkable path has continued unfolding that way, most recently leading them to UCF, where they’ve made a generous gift to help medical and nursing students.
In London, Zaby completed her residency and went into practice as a family doctor while Suree took a position in airline management, working in England and East Africa. They never got accustomed to the English climate, though, and in 1982, while visiting the U.S., Zaby interviewed with the University of Florida for a residency in family medicine. That summer, the university called her in England to tell her she had a spot but that orientation was in two weeks. Again — but under very different circumstances — she packed hurriedly and left for a new continent with only her suitcases.
Suree joined her after tying up loose ends in England and not long after Zaby finished her residency, they bought a small practice in Seminole County. It was slow going at first, with Zaby treating students at Rollins College to help make ends meet, then seeing her own patients in the afternoons. With Zaby’s dedication to patient care and Suree’s business savvy, though, the practice evolved quickly, becoming a forerunner of today’s Medicare HMOs.
Their group, Associated Family Medicine, worked to coordinate care and reduce hospitalizations for Medicare patients by providing what was then a new kind of care. “We didn’t want to just treat patients when they got sick,” Zaby says. “We wanted to keep the illness from ever occurring.” The group grew to 18 doctors and a staff of 70, caring for almost 10,000 Medicare patients at offices across Seminole and Orange counties, before they eventually sold to a much larger coordinated care group with a similar approach.
Today, Zaby still sees patients part-time, but the pair spends more time on travel and philanthropy. Recently they returned to Uganda to visit the Franciscan primary school Zaby attended, making a gift to fund construction of a playground and sports fields. At UCF, their gift will fund scholarships for medical students, with preference given to female students interested in primary care, and for nursing students, with preference given to those facing unexpected financial hardships.
“People need help in this world,” says Suree. “There were people who helped us out when we had nothing, when we were thrown out of our country. When you have a chance to help, you help.”