NFL Player-Turned-Doctor Leads Mission In His Native Homeland Of Nigeria

Dr. Samkon Gado


Whether he was running through defenders in the NFL or studying relentlessly for medical school exams, Dr. Samkon Gado, M.D., (’05) has led a life marked by resiliency and obedience to God’s leading.

Gado was born in Kafai, Gombe State, Nigeria. His family moved to South Carolina before high school so that he could pursue an American education.

After a standout athletic career in high school, where he lettered in three sports and received all-state football honors as a senior running back, Gado received a football scholarship from Liberty, a Division I-AA program at the time.

Following the 2004 season, Gado was recognized as an All-Big South Conference selection but was bypassed in the 2005 NFL Draft. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs, where he spent less than two months before being signed by the Green Bay Packers. He impressed the league enough in his rookie season to remain there for six years, spending time with six different teams and racking up 12 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards of offense during his time in the NFL.

But football was never his intended career. Gado’s goal in the NFL was certainly an unconventional one: to save his earnings to pay for medical school and fulfill a dream of serving in medical missions.

Gado married his wife, Rachel, in 2010, and with her support traded a football uniform for a white coat, starting medical school at Medical University of South Carolina. Near the end of his time there, he traveled to Nigeria to do a one-month rotation of his ENT (ear, nose, and throat) residency with Saint Louis University.

He had first considered medical missions when he was a Liberty student, but working in Nigeria only further confirmed a desire God had laid on his heart years earlier.

“I always felt a tug toward cross-cultural missions. My grandfather was a local missionary to Nigeria, and my father was a pastor and minister and has been in the ministry my whole life. I kind of resisted until I came to Liberty,” he said. “I was ready to go somewhere where the Gospel had never gone before. But my idea of missions began morphing a bit, and instead of setting up a hut and serving as many people as I could until I die, I started thinking, ‘What if missions could be a little more organized?’ and I began thinking more about infrastructure.”

In 2019, Gado and his sister, Ruth, founded The Jonah Inheritance with the purpose of reimagining healthcare in Nigeria from a Gospel perspective. The name comes from both sets of their grandparents’ names: Yunana, a version of “Jonah,” and Gado, which means “Inheritance.”

Gado said the nation is desperate for this type of medical relief.

“Nigeria’s strength is it is one of the top exporters of physicians in the world, but it has one of the worst healthcare systems and the worst infrastructure, so there is a disconnect there,” he said.

The vision includes building a self-sustaining hospital on a 28-acre campus in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Gado said they have raised enough funds to build a border fence and hope to break ground on the hospital this year. The Jonah Inheritance is already actively at work training in-country doctors and medical staff.

Nigerian partners have been overseeing the projects while Gado is in Lynchburg, where he returned in 2020 to work as an ENT surgeon. He is working with his former roommate from Liberty, Dr. Jay Cline (’05); the two are partners at Blue Ridge ENT.

While Gado serves patients locally, he’s also making plans to someday move with his wife and four sons to Nigeria and focus his full attention on The Jonah Inheritance.

“The idea of going to Nigeria, for both of us, is very difficult,” he said. “That’s why what really keeps us moving in that direction, truly, is what the Lord is doing in both of our hearts.”

Gado said his ultimate goal is to not only help people heal physically but also share the Gospel message with them.

“I started seeing medicine from a slightly different perspective, using the Gospel as a framework to actually break down disease,” he said. “I think diseases preach the Gospel to us, and if you think of how diseases happen, you can see and preach through a disease.”

He said cancer is one example.

“Cancer is a cell creating its own agenda. It doesn’t really matter what that agenda is; it’s just an agenda different than what it was designed to do. When it reproduces itself, it destroys the organ and eventually can metastasize to the body and end in death. That’s no different than the sin of Adam.”

Gado said God looks at the heart of the issue, and that is how healing truly comes.

“He doesn’t go after the behaviors. The only way that sin can be addressed is by changing the heart. Once you fix the broken DNA, the body naturally takes care of the cancer.

“Couple our understanding of the Gospel and how it affects medicine with doctors who are of the same mind and who are capable, and teaching them how to marry the Gospel with medicine … now, the whole healthcare encounter is a Gospel presentation.”

While Gado has always had a warrior spirit, he said it was awakened, shaped, and encouraged the most during his time at Liberty, where he encountered LU founder Jerry Falwell Sr. and others whose hearts were on fire for the Gospel and displayed how that message can change the world.

“Spiritually and practically, Jerry Falwell has really been a role model to me,” Gado said. “The biggest thing that Liberty has been to me is that it was an incubator for many things. It allowed me to find godly relationships. For the first time in my life, I was meeting people my age who had a deep passion for the Lord and a passion to serve Him. And that, more than anything, is what the Lord used to deepen my faith. I found brothers, a community of believers, who were following hard after the Spirit of Christ.”

Although securing the finances for The Jonah Inheritance is essential to the project’s success, Gado said he is choosing to look back at the example Falwell gave in achieving his own God-given dream.

“I think of Falwell often, and the parallels are amazing,” Gado said. “He had a vision, and he was unwavering. He knew the power his vision had, and what would fuel his vision wasn’t money; it was prayer. (Dr. Falwell) acquired as much land as possible — long before Liberty was even capable of filling that land. But he, in faith, trusted that the Lord was going to bring the vision to fruition, and he literally took that step (of faith).”

Gado said he will continue to visit Nigeria each year until they move there permanently.

“That’s not something that we would have naturally chosen for ourselves; that wasn’t something that I wanted to do,” he said. “But my commitment to the Gospel needs to be unwavering and, in the end, it will be shown to be true just like it has been for Liberty.”