Good News From Kenya

CNN doesn’t often paint a pretty picture of Kenya, or Africa in general.  Terrorism, HIV, malnutrition, dictatorships.  These make great headlines, generate web traffic, and sell papers.  But they don’t begin to tell the real story of Africa.  Kenya in particular has had a rough year in the press.  Reporters showed up in droves for our recent elections, anticipating a repeat of the widespread violence which followed the 2007 elections.  But they slunk quietly away as Kenyans went to the polls in record numbers, and peacefully refused to be pulled into tribal clashes.  Our current president and his deputy are on trial at the Hague for crimes against humanity, but the country moves forward and goes about its business.

Most recently, al shabaab, the Somali variant of al qaida, turned its hateful eye towards Kenya.  We’ve been enduring al shabaab attacks in Kenya since Kenyan forces assisted in ousting this terror group from Mogadishu and key Somali port towns in 2011.  Several church and bus bombings, and grenade assaults on restaurants or bars in Nairobi have kept Kenyans a bit on edge.  This past week saw Kenya grab the headlines for four consecutive days,

Siege at Westgate Mall

as al shabaab terrorists systematically killed scores of Kenyans and ex-pats and brought down a four story luxury shopping mall in Nairobi.   Al shabab  mocks the dead by Twitter and promises more attacks.

What CNN may not portray is the gentle, compassionate response to these terrible events.  During the siege, the terrorists calmly interviewed customers, to separate Muslims from non-Muslims.  Muslims were set free, but those who could not recite verses from the Koran or name relatives of Mohammed were summarily shot.  But stories are emerging of Muslims quietly writing Koranic verses on slips of paper and passing them to their Kenyan brothers and sisters to allow their escape.  Kenyans have rushed to provide blood donations, monetary support, and prayer for the injured and families of victims.  Somali Muslims were known to have put their lives at risk rushing to the aid of the injured in the mall.  For every spectacular evil, there are a thousand quiet, gentle acts of love and compassion.  Love wins.

Terrorism, HIV, malnutrition, dictatorships.  These are huge tragedies.  Too big to get your head around.  As individuals, we can feel powerless, unable to help.  But amidst these tragedies, lie opportunities to provide hope and bring healing.

Meet Jonah.

Jonah in his hut in Samburu

Jonah in his hut in Samburu

Jonah is eight, and lives in Samburu, the wild west of Kenya.  This remote desert region is known for its spectacular and deadly cattle raids between warring tribes.  Traditional village healers provide most of the health care.

In this setting, Jonah was unfortunate enough to contract tuberculosis (TB) of the spine.

Jonah's Spine distorted by tuberculosis

Jonah’s Spine distorted by tuberculosis

A scourge not seen in the west for a century, TB of the spine, or Pott’s disease, leads to a slow and painful death.  Without treatment, the spine is slowly dissolved, causing paralysis, respiratory  and kidney collapse, and death.  The medical term for the process is “caseous necrosis.”  Necrosis means death.  Caseous means cheese-like:  the body’s tissues become dissolved and take on the consistency of cottage cheese.

A missionary lady in this remote region found Jonah lying in his hut, covered in a blanket.  As the spinal cord is compressed by the infection, the legs become paralyzed.  Tragically, the nerves to the bowels and bladder are also damaged, so Jonah was lying in filth, despite the best efforts of his loving family.  When found, Jonah had only weeks to live.

As often happens here, life hangs by a thread.  An email from the missionary found its way to Kijabe.  Steve, a missionary pilot, arranged to land in the Samburu bush, and fly Jonah to our precarious dirt strip perched on the edge of the Rift Valley.

Jonah’s mother and father had to make a gut-wrenching decision.  They released their gravely ill child to complete strangers, in the hope that he would return to them one day, cured of his illness.

Jonah arriving safely at Kijabe

Jonah arriving safely at Kijabe

As I approached the plane door, a strong smell of urine greeted me.  As I took Jonah in my arms, the warm moisture on my scrubs confirmed the fact that he had soaked his clothes.

As I carried him to the waiting vehicle, his bowels released inside the trousers acquired for him for his first trip outside Samburu.

We’ve admitted Jonah to the hospital, given him pain medications, hydration, nutrition, placed a catheter, and started a full course of TB treatment.  Though still paralyzed, he’s happy, comfortable, and clean.  Dr. Kinyua, one of our orthopaedic trainees, has taken it on himself to make sure Jonah gets some time in the beautiful African sunshine every day.

Jonah resting comfortably in his shared bed.

Jonah resting comfortably in his shared bed.

Here’s the good news:  with surgery, Jonah can have a normal life.  Even though Jonah has advanced destruction of his spine, and near complete paralysis of his legs, he has a good prognosis.  The surgery is extensive:  we must remove a rib, enter his chest cavity, remove the abscess from the spinal cord, and fuse the damaged spinal segments together.  Almost miraculously, the majority of patients we see in this condition walk into clinic months later!  With youth on his side,  there is hope for a normal life, except for a large incision on the left side of his chest and a somewhat stiff back!

Jonah’s family has no money and owns no cows. Of course, we will not let him leave Kijabe without surgery.   As a mission hospital, Kijabe’s fees are very low, even by African standards.  But with an average income of about $2 per day, many Kenyans cannot even afford to get to a hospital, let alone pay for surgery.  Jonah’s parents,

Jonah, his mother, and younger brother

Jonah, his mother, and younger brother

living in a remote village, have no access to the medical care their son needs.  But this story doesn’t have to end in tragedy.  We have the opportunity to provide hope for Jonah and many more patients like him.

Our church in Bend, Oregon has agreed to set up the “Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patients’ Fund” to pay for care of the most impoverished patients at Kijabe Hospital.  100% of funds donated go directly to pay for Jonah’s and other patients’ care.  Absolutely no administrative or other expenses are incurred:  your donation goes from your Visa or checking account directly to the care of the poorest of the poor.  Jonah’s surgery will cost about $1,000 US…$200,000 would pay for 200 vulnerable patients like Jonah.

The first donation has already been made.  Last summer, my nephews Thomas, Daniel, and Michael came to visit us in Oregon before we left for Africa.  They had saved up their money in their “brother fund” to buy souvenirs.  After they heard our presentation about Kenya, however, they asked if they could donate the money to help a child in Kenya.   So we now have a balance of $97.34 towards Jonah’s surgery!

Please share this post with anyone you can think of, by Facebook, Twitter, with Bill Gates, Bono, your book club, your school, or anyone else who might be interested.  Re-post it next week.  And the week after.  The people this will help have nowhere else to turn.

There are big tragedies in this world, and it’s easy to feel scared and helpless.  Take a stand against the chaos, and you protect that quiet gentle part of your heart that can die a little with each horror.  The good news is that love wins:  a thousand acts of quiet compassion are more powerful than the headlines.

Click on the link below for the secure on-line giving platform.  Yeah, this is a church website, but Jonah doesn’t care what your beliefs are!

Click on “Pay as a Guest”.

Under the drop down menu “Please choose a Fund”, select “Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patient Fund.”

Thank you for considering this request, and sharing it with your circle of friends.



Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Good News From Kenya

  1. Pingback: Your Chance to Do a Work of Mercy!

  2. Pingback: Your Chance to Do a Work of Mercy! - CATHOLIC FEAST - Every day is a Celebration

  3. Cynthia DeGroat

    Thank you so much for this post. I have shared it on my facebook and will continue to do so. God Bess you all Kijabe Mara’s!!

  4. Inspiring stories from you again, Mike. I am absolutely humbled by the stories you shared here, both from the siege in Nairobi and about Jonah. If I wasn’t back to being a poor college student, I would certainly send all I have to help these patients. God bless you all and the work you do.

  5. Roxanne Chappell

    Mike you inspire the rest of us humble servants by the works you are performing. I will share Jonah;s story. God Bless you and your family.

  6. Aaron Askew

    Mike and Ann
    I love the way you love! Especially the part about little acts of caring that beat the big violence and evil.

    Aaron and Pam.

  7. Jen Autore

    Dr. Mike Mara, it brought tears to my eyes watching your Kenya presentation @ BSC and now you are fulfilling your dreams of helping these young people. What a gift you are. Be safe and my family would love to help Jonah and others like him.

    Jen “A”

  8. Julie Nickell

    Mark Shea has kindly posted this on his blog, Catholic and Enjoying It. Glad he did. Very, very inspiring to read. Most of us can’t imagine living among that type of danger.

    • Thanks Julie. Quite honestly, we don’t feel like we live around any particular danger. We feel like God wants us here, and that there are dangers everywhere. For myself, the danger of materialism is far more threatening than the remote chance of being involved in a terror attack. I really appreciate Mark re-posting our blog.


  9. paul

    Mike & Ann, What an amazing post – thank you both so much for this.

  10. Mary Nelson

    Hi Michael,
    My name is Mary Nelson (formerly Mary Seward). Our families knew each other when we were kids. My sister is Polly. 🙂 My husband and I love Kenya like you do. We adopted in 07 and have lived in Nairobi at different times. We left Nairobi five hours before the airport fire this summer. It has been painful to watch the enemy attack Kenya in the various forms. Hurts our hearts deeply. Anyway, I would love to hear about your family if you have a few minutes.

    PS: Excellent blog post above. Well said.

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