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Dikembe Mutombo Is Lending A Ground-Breaking Hand

The former 76ers center is working feverishly to help fight sickness and war-related injuries in his native Democratic Republic Of The Congo.

BOSTON--Dikembe Mutombo is going after this harder than he has ever gone after a block or a dunk or a rebound.

Much, much harder.

The 7-2 free agent center who helped the 76ers reach the NBA Finals in 2000-01, and who says ''I will be in Boston or San Antonio by the end of the year,'' is trying to raise at least $2 million to help treat the thousands of patients who have been coming, mostly on an out-patient basis, to the hospital he has built in his native Democratic Republic Of The Congo.

His Atlanta-based charitable foundation has teamed up with Denver-based Mobile Accord, Inc. to create a system by which people can make a contribution of $5 by sending ther text message CONGO to 90999. The mobile channel is supported by AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint/Nextel, T-Mobile asnd US Cellular. (Anyone wishing to donate more than $5 should dial 1-800-251-0942.)

''If we can get 400,000 people to send a text, we can raise the money,'' Mutombo said in a telephone interview the other day. ''We'll know in three months what we have done. It is to save the lives of children in Congo. So many of them have malaria. A child dies every 35 seconds of malaria or measles. I know I am not the solution, I am just a piece of the puzzle.''

The hospital Mutombo has built is the first modern medical facility there in 40 years.

Mutombo was a guest at the Dec. 17 premier of ''Gimme Shelter,'' a documentary short prepared by actor-director Ben Affleck about the war-ravaged Congo, where more than four million people have died since 1998.The film was presented at the United Nations Refugee Agency to help raise awareness for the need for financial aid.

''The volume of patients at my hospital is about 250-300 outpatients a day,'' Mutombo said. "Sixty-five percent have malaria. This is a call to the American public and my fans in the Delaware Valley to respond, a call for a Christmas spirit.''