Posts Tagged With: vulnerable patient fund

Sad News from Kijabe, a reason for hope, and a way to help

If you’ve followed this blog over time (October and November 2013), you’ll remember a desperately ill boy, named Jonah.  Jonah was flown from a remote region of Samburu to Kijabe with end stage tuberculosis.

Jonah in his hut in Samburu

Jonah in his hut in Samburu

The infection had eroded through his spine, causing complete paralysis from the waist down.  He went through a very difficult hospitalization, including three surgeries, one of which was complicated by cardiac arrest.  Miraculously, he survived this ordeal, and was able to return to his village and the loving arms of his mother.  He never recovered from the lack of oxygen to his brain during his cardiac arrest, however, and required assistance for feeding and all his activities.  Sadly, I received an email last week that Jonah had died in his home in Samburu.

Jonah’s short and difficult life reflects the daily struggles of so many in Africa.  In reality, Jonah died from poverty, which led to malnutrition, which weakened his immune system, which allowed the devastating infection to take over his precious little body.

And so this is the struggle….an adversary so large and powerful that it’s easy to lose hope.  Easy to think that our puny effort is too small, that children starve and die of infections, and wars break out, and relationships fracture, no matter how hard we try.

But this would miss the point entirely.  The point was never that what you or I do is enough, or sufficient, or even begins to scratch the surface.  We are small, we are broken, we can make little difference, no matter how hard we try.  The point, I think, is this:  we live in a broken, fallen world, where this type of suffering and loss is a constant reality.  Our choice is to succumb to the darkness, or numb ourselves to it, or, on the other hand, to embrace and be the light the world so desperately needs.

Through a long searching journey, I’ve come to believe that the outlandish story told in the bible is true:  that there is a God, that He created and loves us, and took on earthly existence so He could enter history and redeem this world.  His entrance into space and time set up an irreconcilable conflict, between darkness and light.

The Bible says “the whole world lies in the power of evil” (1 John 5:19).  That’s a dismal thought.  We live in a world ruled by evil, so what’s the point of striving for goodness, for light, for an end to suffering?  If we live in North Korea, what is the point of resisting Kim Jong Un?  If we live in a world dominated by materialism, what is the point in living simply?  If children get sick and die before they can enjoy life, what is the point in expending tremendous time, energy, and money to try to save just one child?

The point is this:  the battle is a worthy one, and we don’t fight alone.

The Gospel of John begins with this poem:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

“The Word”, in Greek, Logos, refers to Christ, and is the root word of logic, or order.  So you could paraphrase this poem to read, “In the beginning was order…”  So the Christian world view is that this world is meant for order, not chaos.  Health, not suffering.  Peace, not violence.  Relationship, not isolation.  Christ came into the world as the light, and the darkness cannot, and will not, overcome it.

The good news is that we get to choose sides, choose our commanding officer.  As the great Canadian sage (and lead singer of Rush) Geddy Lee said, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”  CS Lewis, former atheist and one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, described it as “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

By choosing the light, by choosing to be servants of “the rightful king”, our puny efforts become part of a larger effort to make this suffering world a little more like the kingdom of order it was created to be.

So how does Jonah fit into all of this?  Is it God’s will that innocent children suffer and die?

I don’t believe so.   I don’t think I’d much like a father who’s plan included the suffering of his children.  Rather, I believe our Father loves us so much he gave us choice, allows us to reject Him, allows the human race to choose pride and this broken world over servant-hood in His kingdom.  But like any loving father, he looks for opportunities to intervene in our suffering to spread His light despite the darkness of this world.

So if I am to believe in this God, I have to believe that He suffered with Jonah, and with Jonah’s mother, as Jonah became sick and died.  That he loves us so much he came into our world to suffer with us.  Compassion:  com-with, passio-suffer:  to suffer with.  I believe God suffers with us, shows compassion for us, as the darkness descends.  And one of the ways He shows compassion is to find ways to shine light in the darkest of moments.

Jonah’s life touched thousands of lives.  So many people have themselves responded with compassion, with prayers, with support, and with donations so generous that many others have been able to be treated at Kijabe.  Here is a statement of some of the very poor patients who came to Kijabe for care, and had their bills simply written off by compassionate donations to the vulnerable orthopedic patient fund, all because of one six year old boy.

A list of patients helped by the vulnerable patient fund:  over one million shillings!

A list of patients helped by the vulnerable patient fund: over one million shillings!


One of those being helped by the Vulnerable Patient Fund is Ben Moyie.  “Moyie” (moy-yeah) is Ben’s name, but also a swahili outcry of grief.  I don’t know why he was named this, but it sadly portrays his life.  Ben grew up in an area well known for demonic practices, with an alcoholic father, in abject poverty.  He noticed a mass on his left thigh when he was about 12 years old. His family background made it very difficult to get to a doctor.  He was eventually seen, and had a biopsy, which showed a benign tumor of his femur, or thigh bone.  This continued to grow, and he again had a biopsy done two years ago.  The tumor was very large now, but again the biopsy was benign, or non-cancerous.  Because of the size of the tumor, he was advised to have it removed.  This was far beyond the means of his family, so he did not have the surgery.  When the pain became intolerable at age 18, he finally appeared at Kijabe, alone, ten hours bus ride from his home near the Indian Ocean.  The tumor was shockingly large, making removal very difficult.

Ben's leg with large tumor

Ben’s leg with large tumor

Tragically, by this time, it had transformed into a highly malignant tumor known as osteosarcoma.  The only hope for a cure was amputation, through the hip joint.

Understandably, Ben fell into despair at this news.  He asked to be sent home to die.  He withdrew, refused to speak.  The team of doctors and chaplains came again and again to his bedside to pray with him, to talk with him, to suffer with him.

Ann noticed that he had only one light shirt, with holes all over it.  The nights at Kijabe are cold, and the hospital has no heating.  Ann gave him one of her sweatshirts from the Justice Conference to keep him warm at night.

Ben Moyie after surgery, warm in his Justice Conference hoodie

Ben Moyie after surgery, warm in his Justice Conference hoodie

Amazingly, this somehow turned a switch in Ben.  He felt loved, he knew he mattered, he saw a ray of light.  He decided he was through with being sick, being in pain, being hopeless, and asked that we go ahead with the amputation.

Ben has been in the hospital since January, is now healed from his amputation and hoping he can be fit with a prosthesis.  He’s now 19 years old and hopes for as normal a life as possible.  Despite the size of the tumor, there is no sign that it has spread outside of the leg, so we pray for a complete healing.

To be able to walk, Ben will need a very special prosthesis, one rarely made in sub-Saharan Africa.  A prosthesis  that fits onto his pelvis, with two artificial joints.  I’ve talked to the prosthetic specialists here at Kijabe, and they are up for the challenge.  With donated artificial joints, the leg can be made for about $3,000, a fraction of what it would cost in the US.  Even this reduced amount, however, would represent about four years income to Ben’s family.  They would have to sell their ancestral land to buy the leg.

I would like to invite you to donate to the Kijabe Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patients’ Fund.  Our church has created a secure giving platform which allows you to make a US tax-deductible donation to help Ben and others like him.  There’s no middle man, no administrative cost, your donation goes into an account, and then directly to the patient’s bill.  If you are moved to help Ben, you can use the link below to make your donation.  You can “Pay as a guest”, and select “Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patient’s Fund”, and we’ll put your donation to work immediately.


Thanks for showing compassion, for “suffering with” these most vulnerable men, women, and children.





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Back in Kijabe

After a much needed Christmas break with Ann’s parents in Dublin,

Happy Kids on the Dublin Train

Happy Kids on the Dublin Train

we are delighted to be back in Kijabe.  As we were packing up in Ireland, the kids were beside themselves with excitement.  As much as they adore their grandparents, they couldn’t wait to see their friends, run around barefoot, and ride on the roof of the car.  It’s amazing how well and quickly Kenya has become home for them.IMG_1925

I think Ann and I feel the same way.  Coming back to our little house, getting back into our routines, really felt like a homecoming.  I was a little apprehensive before going back into work, remembering the overwhelming workload

Busy "Add-On" Surgery Schedule

Busy “Add-On” Surgery Schedule

which always awaits.IMG_1989  But it was so great to see the OR staff and ortho team, I quickly forgot about any apprehension.  And I  realized how much I really love working here.

Kijabe can be a challenging place to work, on a number of different levels.  I think I really underestimated the difficulties inherent in working in a different language and culture.  And it’s difficult seeing so much need everyday

Young Boy With Fractured Femur, Hit by Car

Young Boy With Fractured Femur, Hit by Car

and not having the resources to provide.  The two boys from Samburu really touched us.  It’s been difficult to get updates on their condition, as they live in a very remote area.  Laura, the dedicated missionary in that area, has had enough contact to tell us that Jonah is doing “reasonably well”, and Saidimo is thriving and just finished at the top of his class.  We continue to pray for these two little boys.

I’ve returned with, I hope, much more realistic expectations.  I can only imagine how many cultural faux pas I’ve committed here, and I’m thankful for the graciousness of my Kenyan colleagues.

Xrays of Boy With Femur Fracture

Xrays of Boy With Femur Fracture

We’re blessed to have Bob and Sally Zirschky visiting Kijabe for three weeks.  The Zirschky’s lived only a couple of hours drive from us in Oregon, but we never met until they came to serve at Kijabe last year.  Bob is an orthopaedic surgeon, and Sally can do everything else!  She comes loaded for bear, an entire household of goods in Rubbermate tubs, and immediately sets up a home!  How many volunteers come equipped with their own sewing machine?!? Unbelievably, the Zirschky’s ministry includes donating all the goods they travel with to the ministry site they visit.  So the apartment they leave will be fully stocked with sheets, towels, and small appliances.  One of the great blessings of this path we’re on is meeting pleasantly crazy people like the Zirschky’s!

So we’re off on the journey of 2014.  We’ve learned some lessons about boundaries, about biting off more than we can chew, and about the importance of sabbath.  We were warned about all these things in our training, but were confident we wouldn’t make the silly mistakes that our predecessors fell into.  So instead, we invented new ones.  I’m turning 50 tomorrow, but I feel like a freshman in college, so much to learn.  As we look forward to 2014, we are thankful beyond words for the hundreds of people praying for us and supporting us in so many ways.  God Bless You and may you have a joyous and blessed new year.

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Jonah has made it through surgery!

Today was Jonah’s big day, and all of your prayers and support have paid off.  He was actually looking around the operating theatre a bit before anesthesia, the most alert he’s been since his cardiac arrest.  Every patient gets prayed for as they undergo anesthesia here.  For Jonah, we paused a second time just before we began the operation, surrendering him to the God who created him.

Surgeons don’t usually pay much attention to the anesthesiologist’s monitors, but both Dr. Muchiri and I kept an ear, and occasionally an eye, tuned in to Jonah’s heart rate and blood pressure.  Jonah wouldn’t be Jonah if he let us relax completely, but he remained remarkably stable throughout the surgery.  When we re-entered his spine, we found almost no evidence of the TB which had caused the paralysis.  The prior operation, in concert with the five anti-TB drugs, seems to have already nearly eradicated the infection.  The operation proceeded slowly but smoothly.  When we finally installed the metal “cage” which supports the front of his spine, and tightened down the wires which secure the rods in the back of his spine, Jonah had grown almost three inches!  He has been so folded over from the spine destruction, he’s always looked quite small.  With his spine straightened out, he looks like a pretty normal eight year old.

This little man still has a huge road to travel.  He’s in the intensive care unit, as planned, on a breathing machine.  Strong narcotics for his pain.

Jonah resting comfortably in the ICU

Jonah resting comfortably in the ICU

A total of six antibiotics.  Tubes coming from everywhere.   A long list of potential complications.  He still needs to wake up from all the surgical and cardiac arrest trauma.  After that, assuming all goes well, we wait to see how much his spinal cord can recover.

My dream, and my plan, is to take a little walk with Jonah in his village in Samburu.

Samburu women who have sewn clothes to support Jonah's family

Samburu women who have sewn clothes to support Jonah’s family

The women in his village have gotten together to sew clothes to sell at the market to help his family.  I just met a pastor who speaks his language and is serving the nomads in his area.  So many people here and around the world have reached out to him.  I feel connected to his fate, as are all of you who’ve prayed for him and sent your love and support.  I can’t know God’s plan for his life, but he’s already touched more people than many of us ever will.  I’ll keep you up to date on his progress over the next days and weeks.

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News about Jonah

Jonah continues to struggle along.  He’s breathing on his own, blood pressure and heart rate are stable, but he’s still in the ICU.  He’ll occasionally respond or open his eyes, but is very weak.

Thankfully, he’s stabilized as much as he’s going to in the short run.  Our plan is to go ahead and try to complete his surgery tomorrow.  There’s risk in proceeding, but there’s also risk in delaying.

Laura, the missionary in contact with Jonah’s parents, has sent along this picture of Jonah’s parents.

Jonah's Parents

Jonah’s Parents

On a more positive note, Saidimo, Jonah’s friend from Samburu, is recovering very well from his surgery and is walking better and better every day.  David, the guardian who accompanied Jonah and Saidimo on the plane, was very sick with TB when he arrived.  He’s doing well, and tests show no trace of TB.  As he’s been infectious to others, he’s had to wear a mask since he arrived.  I haven’t seen his face since he got off the plane, but I saw him smiling, mask free, on my way into the hospital today.

Now’s the time to pray.  Please share Jonah’s plight with your bible study, book club, etc.


“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayers.”

Romans 12:12



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Jonah struggles on

If there’s one overarching feeling since moving to Kenya, it’s one of inadequacy.  There are just so many people who are so sick, so in need of so much more than I can provide.  Impossible choices, weighing what this man, woman or child needs, compared to what I can provide for them.  Kijabe hospital is an unbelievable oasis of love and competency, but is incessantly overwhelmed by unending demands on its limited resources.

I haven’t always been a Christian.  I know that label makes some peoples’ skin crawl, and I don’t like some of the connotations myself, maybe “follower of Christ” is better.  Whatever you call it, I’ve arrived there by a number of different roads.  Some have been direct experiences of the mystical, others more practical.  The sustaining structure of my faith, however, is that it helps me make sense of the world that I see, taste, breathe.  If I look at the world without blinking, with the insulation removed, my mind has trouble making sense of the paradox.  How can so much evil, so much suffering, exist alongside such sublime beauty and structure.  How can a God who loves infinitely allow so much suffering in his creation?

For me, the question contains the answer.  A God who loves so much He would release control, allow free will, allow betrayal.  A God who loves so much He would love anyway, knowing the cost.  A God who loves so much he would suffer and die so his children could live.  Love involves risk.  Risk of loss, risk of rejection.  Maybe ultimate love involves ultimate risk.  So I’ve turned it all over to a God who I believe risked it all to be in relationship with us, with me.

This all helps me make sense of a child like Jonah.

Jonah was scheduled for his big spine surgery today.  Weeks of anticipation, discussion, tests, consultations.  Weeks of TB medications, good nutrition, surrogate mom’s and dad’s scooping him up and taking him on “walks” in his wheelchair.  We got Jonah to the OR early, before he could sneak some rice or milk from another child on the ward.  With Jonah on the OR table but not yet asleep, I got a call from our anesthesiologist:  ” Don’t put him to sleep, we may not have an ICU bed and ventilator for him after surgery, a neurosurgery patient just had to be put on a ventilator.”  We can only have five patients at a time on a breathing machine here.

Jonah was taken back to the waiting area, and we went ahead with another surgery, then later in the day got the go-ahead to proceed.

Finally, Dr. Muchiri (the gifted head spine surgeon here), myself, and the anesthesia team were all set to go.

Jonah’s a bright little boy.  In his region, they don’t really keep track of birthdays, but he’s about eight years old, same as my son Michael.  He’s been in the hospital about three weeks, so he knows my face, and he likes it when I take his picture with my phone and show it to him.   He doesn’t speak English or Swahili, only his native tongue Samburu, so we can’t talk much.  Lying on the OR table, hundreds of miles away from his parents and unable to speak to anyone in the room, he was scared.  I grabbed his hand, just the same size as Michael’s, and he squeezed hard.  If I even looked away to get some piece of equipment organized, he squeezed harder and used his other hand to pat my arm.  I played “spider” walking my fingers up his arm to tickle him, and his little body was wracked with giggling.  We kept this up until the intravenous propafol put him off to sleep.

Finally, Jonah was under anesthesia, and we then rolled him prone (onto his stomach) for the surgery.  We all paused and watched the monitors.  Smooth sailing!   Unlike the previous attempt, Jonah’s blood pressure and heart rate remained stable.  We proceeded with the surgery.

Surgery for TB of the spine involves two general stages.  First, the spine is opened, and the tissue compressing the spinal cord is “debrided”, or removed.  The second stage involves stabilizing the segments of the spine destroyed by the infection.  The first stage went very well:  the spine was opened, and the pus, dissolved bone and soft tissue fragments were removed.  We were gratified to see the sac around the spinal cord begin gently pulsing, indicating the paralyzing pressure on the spinal cord had been relieved.

There exists an unspoken communication between surgeon and anesthesiologist.  The surgeon’s job is to complete the surgery.  The anesthesiologist’s is to care for the patient during the surgery.  A thin sheet of sterile  cloth separates us.  But both surgery and anesthesia have a certain tone, pace, and rhythm. And when that rhythm is disrupted on either side of that sheet, you just know.  As we finished the first stage of Jonah’s surgery, we could sense a change in the tone of the anesthesiologist.  A quick glance at the monitors showed the reason:  Jonah’s blood pressure and heart rate had plummeted.

We quickly called for suture to quickly close the foot long spine incision.  Rather than the usual meticulous layer by layer closure, skin, muscle and connective tissue are swept up in deep sweeps of a large needle, closing the incision in seconds.  Sterile drapes torn off, and we flipped Jonah onto his back.  Monitors flat line.  No pulse. No blood pressure.  For the moment, Jonah is not alive.

In this rare situation, the surgeons are perfectly positioned to provide chest compressions (CPR), while the anesthesiologist administers fluids and epinephrine, or adrenaline.  We compressed his little heart to provide blood flow to his precious brain, and to allow the life saving epinephrine to circulate through his body.  As we did CPR, we also prayed out loud for his life.  Twice we paused the chest compressions, only to see that he still had no heart rate or blood pressure.  I was starting to think about what I would tell his parents.  Miraculously, on our third and perhaps final pause, Jonah’s heart took over!  His heart rate and blood pressure, while not normal, were remarkably good.

We got Jonah to the ICU and connected him to a ventilator to breathe for him.

Jonah resting comfortably in the ICU

Jonah resting comfortably in the ICU

Thankfully, his pupils were reactive, some indication that he did not suffer brain damage from the stoppage of his heart.  His blood pressure and heart rate normalized.   And I just received a text from the anesthesiologist in the ICU:  “Jonah awake and off the ventilator”!  He survived.

Jonah’s still got a rough road ahead.  Once he’s stabilized, we have to go back to surgery to stabilize the segments of the spine destroyed by infection.  After that, he’s got a long recovery ahead of him

The only way I can make sense of all this is by surrendering to a God who loves Jonah, who loves me, and who understands suffering.  To believe that there’s a bigger picture than pus and paralysis and a scared little boy.  And to believe that there’s a God who loves each one of us so much he allows us to be a part of His plan.  Thanks for praying for all of us.



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The Samburu Duo

The two boys from Samburu are doing well.  Saidimo, the boy with chronic osteomyelitis (bone infection) of the shoulder and hip had his surgery done on Thursday.  He’s done great!  He had an active infection in the shoulder

Saidimo's shoulder with chronic osteomyelitis (bone infection)

Saidimo’s shoulder with chronic osteomyelitis (bone infection)

, and we removed some infected bone and put him on antibiotics.  The hip had been previously damaged by infection, but he had no active infection that we could see.  The problem with his hip is that the leg had become contracted to the point where it was very difficult to walk.  The surgery relieved the contracture in his hip, and he’s starting to get up and around.  We have high hopes that he’ll be able to walk with nothing more than a bit of a limp.  Time will tell.  Here’s a short video of him getting off the missionary flight with the hip severely contracted, and now with the contracture released and his leg out straight.

Saidimo after surgery, leg nice and straight.  Next step, learning to walk again!

Saidimo after surgery, leg nice and straight. Next step, learning to walk again!

Jonah’s surgery is scheduled for Tuesday.  He’s had a complete evaluation by a pediatric cardiologist in Nairobi.  He has no problem with the heart, so it seems the blood pressure problems we experienced are from the large TB abscess behind his heart.  When he arrived at Kijabe, he was very weak and painful.  Now with a couple of weeks of TB medications and nutrition, he’s very comfortable and much stronger.  We now find him sitting up in bed under his own power, something he couldn’t have attempted when he arrived.  So he’s going into the surgery in the best shape he can be in.

Jonah sitting up under his own power!

Jonah sitting up under his own power!

We’re worried about his surgery.  When we attempted it before, he couldn’t tolerate the anesthetic and we had to abandon the surgery.  The pediatricians, anesthetists, and surgeons have all done everything possible to give him the best chance for the surgery.  We’ve also had to discuss this with his parents, who realize the gravity of the situation.

Already, the needy patient fund has been able to provide care for

Esther after surgery

Esther after surgery

Esther, the baby with the knee infection, and Saidimo, as well as paying for Jonah’s MRI and pediatric cardiology consult in Nairobi.  Thank you all for your generosity in spreading the word about these kids, praying for them, and donating to help pay for their care.

One of the most difficult things about operating on Jonah is that he’s the same age as my son Michael.  I can’t imagine Michael being far away, in the hands of people I’d never met, and about to undergo a surgery that he may possibly not survive.  The faith and trust of his mother is overwhelming.  Please pray for all of us.

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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.



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