A VIP Visit to Kijabe (Flunking Sainthood Day 13)

Thursdays are often a busy day for Kijabe orthopaedics.  As the weekend draws near, we try to strategize so patients aren’t left waiting for surgeries on the weekend.  We’re not always successful, as the constant stream of injured patients keeps our plans shifting continuously.  But we try.

For the last two years, I’ve been taking care of a young lady from the local girls’ school who suffers from a number of medical conditions.  She has rheumatic heart disease, and chronic osteomyelitis (bone infection) in both her arm and leg.  She had a surgery about a year ago where an antibiotic-impregnated spacer had been placed in her leg bone.  She came in because the spacer had eroded out of the skin, leaving a large wound and exposed bone on the front of her leg.  We did a “flap” surgery where a muscle is moved from the back of the leg to the front, and then covered with skin graft, to close the defect in her leg.  This should take care of the problem, though she does have a chance of the infection coming back someday.

Following this surgery, I left the next patients in the very capable hands of one of our surgery residents, Dr. Shelminth.  I checked in on her from time to time, but she is very capable and finished the rest of the surgery day without difficulty.  This wraps up many of the surgeries we needed to get done before the weekend.

This gave me time to prepare for the arrival of our VIP visitor:  Dr. Vincent O’Neill, Ireland Ambassador to Kenya!  Dr. O’Neill is a physician who has practiced in various African countries, working with HIV and community health.  Eventually, he saw the opportunity to make a difference in the political realm, and entered the diplomatic world.  Ireland has not had an embassy in Kenya in 30 years, so Dr. O’Neill has been tasked with re-opening the Irish Embassy in Nairobi.  Ann and I had had the pleasure of meeting the ambassador and his wife Brona at some Irish functions in Nairobi, and he was good enough to come out for  a tour of the hospital.

After the first surgery, I make my way up to the house to grab a quick cup of coffee, and there was a large refrigerator in the middle of the road at the bottom of my driveway.  The beautiful thing about living in Africa is that this sort of thing requires no explanation.  There is a refrigerator in the middle of the road simply because someone put it there.

A Refrigerator

A Refrigerator

Kijabe and Ireland have some unexpected connections.  Ireland has sent missionaries to Kenya, primarily priests and nuns, for generations.  These are humble servants who come to teach, to build hospitals and schools, to provide food security.  Some of the people in highest leadership at Kijabe were taught by Irish nuns in Kenya.  Recently, the Irish-Kenya association donated three highly specialized mannequins to train emergency providers in the resuscitation of children.

Most remarkably, Ireland has a direct connection to the surgical training we do here at Kijabe.  Our programs are certified through a “college without walls”, the College of Surgeons of Eastern, Central, and Southern Africa (COSECSA).  COSECSA is founded by African surgeons, with offices in Arusha, Tanzania.  But much of the curriculum development, assessment tools, conduct of examinations, and logistical support, comes from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).  RCSI, through a collaboration with  COSECSA and IrishAid, helps make it possible for us to teach surgeons in Africa.

Ambassador O’Neill texts that he is approaching Kijabe, and Ann and I make our way to the front gates.  We were delighted when we saw the SUV with red diplomatic plates and the Irish flag streaming in the wind. IMG_5011 The ambassador was quickly ushered in for a tour of the hospital and meeting with the hospital administration.  As a surgeon, I couldn’t wait to get him down to “theatre” to show him our remarkably well equipped operating rooms.  Our medical director, Dr. Mardi Steere, (a paediatrician), takes a more holistic view of Kijabe, and also includes our nursery, patient wards, ICU, and children’s ward in the tour.

Ambassador O’Neill is a good sport, and dons surgical gown and cap to enter the surgical suite.  As we tour the operating theatres, I make a special point of introducing Ambassador O’Neill to Dr. Higgins, the ortho surgeon who is with us for three months.  Dr. Higgins is a first generation American, his parents both born in County Mayo, in the west of Ireland.  Dr. Higgins is just finishing a big case, and strides up to us wearing a bloody gown and dripping gloves.  The seasoned diplomat takes this all in stride, and warmly greets Dr. Higgins, posing for a photo for Dr. Higgins’ dear mother from Mayo.

Next up, the meeting with the hospital administration.

The hospital administration greets Ambassador O'Neill

The hospital administration greets Ambassador O’Neill

Down to the board room for introductions, greetings, tea, and cake.  Great discussions ensue, good questions asked back and forth, and relationships formed.  The older I get, the more I value relationships.  To be part of a conversation with earnest, honest, intelligent people, all pulling towards a common goal, is a treasure to be savored.IMG_9822

Traveling after dark isn’t a great idea around here, so we usher Ambassador O’Neill back to his car for the return trip to Nairobi.  IMG_9827

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