Oliver Barry ’01, M.D. is a Pediatric Interventional Cardiologist at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital (New York Presbyterian), but his commitment to the well-being of children began years ago while he was an undergraduate at Princeton. He credits a sense of appreciation and gratitude for his time at Hotchkiss as an important factor in his decision to found a not-for-profit organization.
Accepted into the Princeton In Africa Program (PiAF), which provides year-long grants for humanitarian work in Africa, Barry’s fellowship was at a large US government funded non-profit agency helping children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. “This is a significant problem in Zambia. We worked in many capacities to combat issues associated with HIV/AIDS – educational campaigns, microfinance activities, HIV testing and treatment programs, food security, and even agricultural programs. I found one of the most striking things was the need and desire for better educational opportunities for Zambian young people, as the vast majority of children finish their schooling after grade seven.”
Barry’s time in Zambia made a lasting impression, and he wanted to stay involved in the Zambian community. “Along with several friends, I founded the Kucetekela Foundation (KF) in 2006. My own personal educational experience at Hotchkiss left me with a great sense of appreciation and gratitude, and certainly had a huge impact on the decision to start a non-profit for secondary school support. I hoped that at least in some small way, KF could help young Zambians achieve a similar education.”
“Kucetekela” means “hope” in Bemba, which is one of Zambia’s languages. This word represents the foundation’s work and goal to provide promising youngsters with the opportunity for a secondary school education through scholarships. KF is helping to address the fact that fewer than 10 percent of Zambian children graduate from secondary school. Along with the scholarships, KF also provides necessities such as books, boarding and test fees, uniforms, and extra academic resources.
These days, Barry’s primary responsibilities at the Foundation include administration and development work, assisting with finance management, and programmatic activities. “In so many ways, it’s been an incredible journey building and watching KF grow. We are tremendously proud that we now have over 70 alumni who are either studying at colleges around the world or who have completed their schooling and are now working.”
Prior to graduating from Princeton in 2005 (B.A. History of Science), Barry explored his interest in medicine by spending summers in various internships with medical clinics and by shadowing doctors. “Watching them work and their interactions with patients and families confirmed the fact that I wanted to become a doctor. It seemed incredibly gratifying. Pediatrics seemed like a natural fit, especially after my time in Zambia, seeing so many vulnerable young people. I committed to pediatrics by the end of my first year at the Yale School of Medicine.”
After Yale (M.D. 2012), Barry completed his residency in 2015 in General Pediatrics at New York Presbyterian – Columbia, followed by a fellowship in Pediatric Cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital, which he finished in 2019.
Now on the faculty at Columbia University Medical Center, and a practicing Pediatric Interventional Cardiologist at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, Barry loves the variety in his work. “I enjoy seeing patients, teaching medical students, residents, and fellows, and doing clinical research. I particularly love working with my hands and being an interventional cardiologist. I receive tremendous satisfaction from treating children with congenital heart disease. It’s an exciting field with amazing innovation. I’m at the hospital at least five days a week and in the catheterization laboratory performing cases two to three days a week.”
Being a father to a six-year-old son, George, has given Barry a different perspective on working with children with heart disease. “Without a doubt, parents feel a deeper trust and connection with me when they know that I am also a parent. In the rare event that we lose a child, the sadness and grief are absolutely profound for the family, but they are felt by the whole medical team.”
Barry was drawn to Hotchkiss by the School’s outstanding facilities and the athletics. “I had a tremendous experience in Lakeville. I loved art with Brad Faus and environmental science with Jim Morrill. Wayne Gaynor was not only my math teacher, but also my advisor – an outstanding figure because of his caring and thoughtful approach. Central to my experience were coaches, particularly the trio of varsity lacrosse coaches, Chris Burchfield, John Cooper, and Brad Faus, who were incredible mentors. Hotchkiss proved enormously valuable – I made lifelong friends, and was challenged and supported in all areas during a critical time in my personal and academic development.”
Barry is proud of his work with KF and of his medical career, but feels that there is nothing more important than his family. “I learned that from my own wonderful parents, Pat and Tom Barry, and I’m so lucky to have a family of my own now. I have an incredible wife, Christie, who has supported me through my medical training, and she is an amazing mom to our son, George.”
To learn more about the Kucetekela Foundation, visit: kucetekelafoundation.org