A Story from Kenya

As part of our involvement with Hungry For Life International, my husband, Kevin, went to Kenya a few years ago and we have kept up specifically with an orphanage project that he visited.  When he came home to tell me about the dozens of children crammed into a room with barely enough floor space for everyone to curl up and sleep, the pain in his heart was visible on his face.  We were so happy to have the opportunity to help get some beds there and contribute to further expansion of the little “facility”.

Our friend Dave, the director of HFL, recently traveled to Kenya.  He has been doing international relief and development work full time for 13 years now, and he has seen a lot.  But something happened to him on this trip that “reset” his point of view and renewed the freshness of his original vision when he was tugged away from his career to pursue his calling.  I’ll paste in some of his words:

On my recent trip to Kenya I learned that a broken foot on a 13 year old might be fatal when combined with extreme poverty.

Nigel’s family lives in a slum called Nyllanda. Nigel was playing soccer with his friends about a month ago. Most soccer matches are played with small balls the children make with bits of string and plastic they wind together over time. As he was playing, Nigel kicked the top of a rock that was sticking out of the ground he mistook for the small grey ball they had been playing with. The pain was immediately intense.

Nigel knew his injury was serious, but he knew his dad didn’t have the money to do anything about it and he didn’t want him to feel bad about that. He managed to hide it for four days until it was just too painful. Knowing he had no money to take his son to a doctor, his dad tried to massage the foot. This only made Nigel scream in pain. The father knew he had to try and take him to a doctor in hopes he would be treated despite having no money.

With no money for a taxi, his dad carried his 13 year old son on his back the 3 km to the hospital. The doctor said he needed pain medication right away and that he should be admitted. Nigel’s Dad spent all the money he had, which was 200 shillings ($2.35), and bought him a couple of pills. The Doctor said that the family needed to pay 3000 shillings ($35) to have the boy admitted. The Father’s heart sank. He was helpless. The Bishop’s wife and she managed to come up with 600 shillings ($7), but that was still not enough. The doctor would not treat the boy so hecarried him the 3 km home.

The next morning the Bishop (our field partner in Kenya) went to see the family. He found Nigel still in extreme pain. The Bishop was able to come up with another 1000 shillings, so he took the boy and the 1600 shillings back to the hospital and pleaded with the doctor to treat him. The doctor finally agreed. Nigel was getting worse and worse and his Mom saw he was going to die because they didn’t have the money to treat him.

Every night the boy stays at the hospital the bill gets bigger and bigger, but he also can’t leave because he is getting sicker and sicker. Then, because of what the family said was a miracle, the Doctor agreed to do surgery, but that cost would also be added to their bill. By this time, a massive infection had set in and the flesh around the wound was rotting. The purpose of the surgery was to cut away as much of the rotting flesh as possible and remove the build up of fluid around the broken bone. There was not enough healthy flesh to sew together at that point, so they just packed the open wound with gauze each day. They are not willing to do more or even see Nigel because the family doesn’t have money for any more treatment. His Mom sits beside him all day long and can’t do anything to take away his pain.

On the final day of our training trip, Nigel’s Dad casually said to me, “My son is sick and needs some medication. Would you come to the hospital to visit him.” Now ashamed, my first response was, “Here we go…yet another ask for money.” I felt like saying no, but thought I could at least go, and pray.

I walked into a grim, dark, small room with at least 10 hospital beds in it. Nigel was in the first bed. I can’t believe what I saw. His foot was wrapped in a tensor bandage, but I could see the skin outside of the bandage dying. His foot and lower leg was incredibly swollen, but the rest of him was incredibly thin. The family’s poverty was evident in his emaciated arms and ribcage. He was writhing in pain. I knelt down beside his bed and stroked his face and started asking about his life, school, favorite class, and how much he loves soccer. I told him about my 14 and 13 year old and showed him pictures of them playing sports. He smiled for what was apparently the first time since the injury.

Nigel’s dad called for the doctor to come to give us an update, but initially he wouldn’t come because he didn’t think the family’s financial position had changed. Then the dad said he had visitor from Canada and the doctor came right away. I asked the doctor to explain what was happening in English. Nigel was getting worse. In addition to his rotting, broken foot, he has developed severe chest pain. His heart is racing and his breathing has become labored. They want to do more tests to check his heart. They think his infection has gone to his heart or he has become septic. They want to do more tests, and treat him right away with major antibiotics and pain medication. They also need more gauze and bandages because otherwise the dressing will stick to the open wound until they have to remove it all and cause him even more suffering. If left untreated, the doctors were concerned for his life.

We took what was, for them, a massive supply list and headed to the drug store. When it was all said and done, I spent $150; enough to last them several days of pain management and a full course of antibiotics to treat his infection. I also paid the lab to come and draw blood and take an x-ray of his chest. That bill was $30. I also bought them a bunch of fruit so he could simply eat and give his body strength to fight.

His parents still had a “massive” bill at the hospital for the nights he had stayed. A whopping $80. Our team looked after that and left a bunch more for a few more days of care. We are hoping they can stop the rotting and the infection and that his flesh heals so that they can one day cast his foot. This is far from over. But his Mom had tears in her eyes when we left and she was speaking in Swahili to the Bishop’s wife. On our way home I was told she said how happy she was to see him smile and laugh again. She also apparently said, “I see today that our God is alive and maybe my boy won’t die from this.”

After 13 years of international ministry and seeing extreme suffering all around the world, nothing has rocked me like this has. I’m not sure why. I think it’s just how ridiculously wrong the whole situation is. It wouldn’t have happened if Nigel would have had shoes and a soccer ball. And even if he did get injured, it could have been fixed if his family had $30 for bandages a cast and some Tylenol.

A week after I got home, I received pictures of Nigels foot when they were changing the dressing. I’ve never seen anything like that, and let’s just say I significantly underestimated how serious and how massive of a wound this is. This is not just a laceration or a badly infected cut. The bottom of his leg is basically rotting away and poisoning the rest of his body.  I absolutely cannot imagine the fear that little boy and his parents are experiencing.

On the 11th, we decided to send Nigel to a Mission hospital in a place called Kijabe, closer to Nairobi. (http://www.kijabehospital.org/) It is staffed by Western and Kenyan medical professionals. I spoke to the head of surgery and, after seeing pictures of Nigel’s foot, they agreed to treat him. The doctor said it could be as simple as treating the infection or as complex as amputation. The step of faith here is that the mission hospital comes with a cost more substantial than where he currently is. We have been told to expect about $2000 to treat Nigel, depending on the assessment and course of action. We don’t have all of this committed yet, but we believe it will come.

I spoke to Nigel the next morning. This has been going on for a month now. I asked him how his spirit is and he said, “This is hard.”

Nigel has now been in the care of what sounds like a great medical facility in Kijabe. He was immediately admitted and started on medications. He was also taken in for surgery to deal with the infection and the course that it has taken on his body. While most of the dead and rotting flesh is on the leg, the abbesses had started to spread to other parts of his body, specifically his chest and other leg. They were able to remove the new abbesses.  It seems, for now at least, the surgeons were able to catch the spread early, before it started to cause further damage. They said he would have died if this has spread while he was still in the hospital in Kisumu. And I cannot imagine the horror of what it would be like to have your child at home suffering with this and no option of getting any medical treatment.

The Doctor also said that they are discovering other possible causes or complications to Nigel’s condition, another reason we are so glad he is where he is.

I hope to talk to or receive an email from the Pediatric Surgeon in the next couple of days. I have asked about his general prognosis and whether his leg can be saved. I will let you know when I do.

To keep up to date with the story, you can follow Dave’s blog.