KINGSTON — Matthew Nogin spent his summer differently than many other teenagers.
Nogin, 17, a senior at Wyoming Valley West School, flew to Africa over the summer to volunteer at four hospitals there.
He walked through child dialysis wards in impoverished communities, where he learned that most children will die before they get a chance at transplants or other life-saving procedures because technology has not caught up in Africa.
“We saw a lot of children who didn’t have donors for their kidney failure,” Nogin said. “We were most with the urology/dialysis unit. We walked through the wards while the doctors did their rounds and we saw that these kids didn’t have much time left.”
After that, Nogin said “something clicked in his head” and his eyes were opened. While many see only tragedy and despair, he saw an opportunity.
He asked doctors and nurses about the procedures, the technology used and needed to help give the kids a fighting chance. It changed his life forever.
He initially thought his talents were pointing him to a career in computer engineering but he returned from Africa with a new interest — biomedical engineering.
He saw it as a chance to use his talents in technology to develop low-cost treatments for children in need all over the world.
“I think that I can use my knowledge and my skills to help out instead of just sit behind a computer all day,” Nogin said.
Nogin began dedicating a large majority of his free time to volunteer work after attending Camp Ramah, an overnight Jewish summer camp for kids and teens in the Poconos, for seven summers with his friend Josh Berkowitz, who travelled to Africa.
He said Berkowitz, who is from Philadelphia, came up with the idea to volunteer in Africa hospitals because his father, an anesthesiologist, and his mother are originally from there. They stayed with his grandmother while they were there.
“It was very unique,” Nogin said. “You go into the city where everyone has these 11-foot-high barbed wire fences and concrete walls and then you travel 15 minutes outside the city and there are mud huts.”
At first, he thought going to Africa would be an experience that would allow him to see how other people live. In the back of his head, however, he said he wanted to do something to help people but he never saw a good opportunity.
“I jumped at this one because it was probably the closest thing I was ever going to get,” he said.
During the trip, Nogin said they followed around doctors and helped nurses.
Doctors told them about different projects going on around the world such as improving dialysis treatments.
“There’s a project that instead of linking to a huge dialysis machine, people can actually have it on a backpack or in them instead like having their blood filtered instead of being restricted to a bed,” Nogin said. “I feel that would be a huge step because on dialysis, you’re not going to have a life. You’re sitting there three times a day for hours.”
Nogin also is a frequent blood donor and he likes getting emails about who it was sent to and who it helped.
While at Camp Ramah, he was training to be a counselor. He took leadership roles at camp and mentored younger campers as he got older.
He also did projects over the summer where he spent 40 hours outside the camp doing community service.
The experience led him to St. Joseph’s Center in Scranton, where he would entertain mentally disabled adults and help nurses.
“It was just showing these people a good time because they are inside all day. They are restricted to a chair,” Nogin said. “It was nice that going out and actively helping out in the community was possibly affecting someone else’s life.”
Nogin also serves as student president of the school band. He plays a bass clarinet and a ukulele as a hobby. He is the son of Eric and Jody Nogin and he has an older brother, Sam.
When asked what advice he would give to others working toward a goal, Nogin said, “Set realistic goals.”
“Don’t jump to save the world. Start with community service. Start with volunteering or donating blood,” he said. “Small things help in the biggest way possible. It’s all about the little things that build up to the big things.”
“Allowing them to be themselves. I have always told both of my children to march to your own drummer and don’t follow the crowd. The crowd will follow you. Be you. Be unique and people will love you no matter what. Basically, I told my boys there are people in life who will always have more and there are people in life who will always have less. You should be grateful and happy for the things that you have and strive for the top.”
At what moment did you realize your child was special?
“All of our kids are special in their own ways. There’s this spark about Matthew that just is infectious. His personality is infectious. I can’t give you a specific time but moments is his life make me really know that he is special.”
What is the greatest challenge you’ve encountered in raising your child?
“Matthew and his brother are both from a divorced household so I would have to speak for their father as well that the biggest challenge was being able to co-parent successfully and I believe that we did. We did the co-parenting together. We didn’t do the marriage thing well but we certainly did the parenting thing well and I think that was the biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to have the kids cohabitate in two different homes. I’m sure a lot of parents are in the same situation as we were. The co-parenting thing was a challenge but at the same time, I think it made them both who they are today.”