We hop into the AIM AIR Caravan for a two hour flight to Akot, Sudan. The door opens and we are greeted by a blast of 100+ degree heat and a group of enthusiastic boys. One has an AK-47 while two others proudly adorn identical Barak Obama t-shirts (Obama's Luo tribe in Kenya migrated from the Sudan centuries ago, and he is thus part of their family too). I decided it was best not to take a picture of Mr. AK-47.
We quickly refuel the aircraft with a hand pump and two 50 gallon drums because our pilot has been asked to medivac out a child 30 minutes away who suffered a gunshot to the face during a cattle raid by an opposing tribe. He underwent reconstructive surgery at Kijabe Mission Hospital in Kenya.
We then head to the mission hospital just off the airstrip to begin seeing the blind that have already arrived on this Saturday afternoon.
Most are led by a family member, often a small child as young as four or five. The child leads by one end of the stick, and the blind person follows by holding onto the other end. We quickly identify 11 patients needing surgery while half the team has already begun setting up the "O.R." in an empty clinic room.
We want the first round of patients seeing as soon as possible in order to spread word through the community. We felt this would be important for mobilization for the week to come as many blind were hesitant to travel due to the recent violence mentioned in my prior blog. Did I mention the SPLA army barracks happen to be at the other end of the airstrip?
By mid-afternoon, the O.R. has been prepared and we are able to do all 11 cases!
Sunday morning everyone was doing well. One lady in particular stood out. She wore a bright green dress and scarf. She had been blinded in both eyes by dense cataracts. As soon as her bandages came off Sunday morning, she looked down and exclaimed, "What am I wearing, these aren't my clothes!" Later that morning on the way to church, we passed her in the bush in our pick-up. We stopped 100 meters after seeing her to give her a ride. She then RAN and JUMPED into the bed of the truck. I have it on video! Only a day earlier, she was being led around by a stick blind as a bat in the bush of Sudan.
Sunday, I had the privilege of being invited to be the preacher of a bush church which meets under a big tree. With just a few minutes to prepare, I prayed for the Spirit to touch my tongue!
Monday, clinic was packed! This was due to the prayers of many of you, the good report of those done Saturday, and the hard labor of the community health workers months in advance to our arrival (Reuben, Josiah, and Joy). Despite hearing gunfire the first three nights, God enabled us to perform 101 surgeries in six days. Our prayer was to reach 100. I'd love to share a few specific stories
When I was a young boy, my dad once told me of an old Togolese man who had never seen his grandkids. That is, until his cataracts were removed. Watching that grandpa see those kids was one of the most moving moments in his medical missionary career. I've always dreamed of getting to see that happen. To the left is a grandpa I had the honor to operate on who had been blind for decades. His grandson had lead him with a stick and was known for his big, pink gums when he smiled. This is grandpa taking in the moment, seeing the big, pink gums for the first time.
We also had the opportunity to restore sight to a Spear Master. These are priest like men in the cattle camps. Legend says that they arise out of the Nile, they are not born. Traditionally, they are buried alive when the Spear Master alerts his tribe that it is time. Yikes! Each morning as we removed the patches, men and women would burst into spontaneous singing. His was especially animated. Here we are hugging after his vision was checked. He was deeply touched by God's gift of sight being regained.
Michael is a 32 year old teacher who came to clinic completely blind in his right eye with 95% of his vision gone in his left eye as well. He could no longer read, but could still walk slowly without assistance. Glaucoma had robbed him of his sight. It is irreversible. His eye pressure was extremely high. Without intervention, he would surely lose all vision. I attempted a surgery which proved very difficult, but was working very well on my departure. However, in the weeks and months to come, it has a high likelihood to fail, especially as I did not have the normal tools used to improve success. Please pray for him. He also gave me a beautiful rooster. Another dream of mine, to be paid in livestock.
As we finished our last case, #100 for the week, a 4 year old boy arrived with a traumatic cataract with a scarred corneal laceration from a stick injury. We had no anesthesia to offer except a local injection. With much prayer and bribery (coke and treats), the child allowed us to administer a retro-bulbar block. He did not move during the entire surgery until I placed my last suture! He then totally broke down. If it had happened a few minutes earlier, it could have been a disaster. On our return to Kenya, a fellow missionary said she had been burdened to be praying that very day for a young boy to come out of the Sudanese bush for the eye care he needed before we left. "We don't believe in miracles, we depend on them." - source, my dad (missionary surgeon), proven true a million times over by medical missionaries around the globe, century after century. There are many things on my heart and mind after experiencing Sudan, but alas, it is very late. I must sleep. Thank you for your prayers. I am so happy to be with Jessica, Elise and Micah again.