Seven Soekens in Burundi

Hi! We are the Soeken family! There are seven of us. Tim (dad), Rachel (mom), Timothy (13), Stephen (9), Carey (7), Joseph (5), and Samantha (2). We have temporarily joined the Kibuye team for the period of February – May, 2022. We are loving it! Since you may have seen us in random photos or heard mention of us, we were invited to write a short introduction to our family.

Tim (dad) is a US Air Force ophthalmologist. This academic year Tim is completing a Global Ophthalmology fellowship for the Air Force via the University of Michigan. This year has included trips to Kenya, India, time in in Michigan, and now almost 5 months at Kibuye. After we complete our time here in mid May, Tim will return to active duty and will help lead all the humanitarian ophthalmology mission trips on behalf of the US military.

Rachel (mom) stays home with the kids. This spring Rachel is doing part time home school, learning a little bit of French, and trying to keep the family running on all cylinders. She is helping to teach elementary Art once a week at KHA. That has been so fun for her to be involved in the school in this way. She also loves going up to hold babies in the NICU. The hospital is an amazing place for sure! 

Our kids are Timothy-7th grade, Stephen-3rd grade, Carey-1st grade, Joseph- 5 years old and Samantha-2. All the kids are LOVING Kibuye life. The older three kids attend KHA for about half their subjects and stay at home for math and reading. The two littlest just enjoy playing at home. Each of our kids have asked at different times if we can stay forever! They have loved being outside and making new friends. One of their favorite new things about Burundi is the wild chameleons. We have a new one in the house about once a week! They like to keep them for a couple days and then let them go. They are so cool! 


What does Tim do while he is in Kibuye for this Global Ophthalmology fellowship? Tim works with 2 ophthalmologists and 2 ophthalmic clinical officers. You may have seen them over time. From left to right, there is Dr. Leopold (ophthalmologist), Emmanuel (OCO), Herve (OCO) and Dr. Jean Claude (retina specialist). Tim has previously completed a cornea fellowship so he spends some of his time teaching best practices for cornea here and some of his time is spent learning how to practice ophthalmology in a low resource setting. Tim thinks the world of each of these four men and would happily work with them for a lifetime if he could! They are all incredible clinicians, surgeons, mentors and friends. 


Below are a few of Tim’s favorite stories from work here in Burundi. This is Saleche. This is a great visual example of the bilateral blinding cataracts that we see here every day. He walked in guided by a caretaker because he could only see light. After the patch was removed on post-op day 1, he could see again from his new left eye! The funny side note here is that he was so excited to walk around the clinic by himself, since he could finally see from his left eye, that he walked his right shoulder into the door quite dramatically. He hopes to return to have his right cataract removed soon!

This is the BEST story! Isaac is a 10 year old boy that I met early last week. He presented

one week after he was hit in the eye. He had what we call a hyphema. Initially it was not

concerning, so we just treated him medically. However, within 2 days his eye pressure sky

rocketed and we increased medical therapy and recommended that he have a “washout” of the

blood the following morning. Unfortunately, Isaac did not show up the next morning. He did

not return for a whole week. And, when he did his eye pressure was even higher and he was

100% BLIND in that eye. I was devastated. And to make it worse, he father had just paid for the

surgery. I was very conflicted but agreed to still perform the surgery. I honestly do not think

that the boy or his father understood the situation. I told Rachel about the situation, and told

her of my total hopeless outlook. But, Rachel being Rachel said, “OK, I will pray for him.” I

thanked her for her kind gesture, but I still expected only a depressing outcome. I went and did

the surgery. Nothing unexpected happened during the surgery. The boy went to sleep. I

prepped the eye, washed out blood, removed a large blood clot, and sutured the single small

incision. The eye was patched and the boy awoken and taken to recover overnight. The next

day I was seeing the usual flow of post-ops and I was handed his chart. On the place for vision

for his right eye I saw “6/24”. I expected “NPL” (no light perception, how we write total

blindness). I asked someone to verify, I said they probably checked the wrong eye, it should say

“NPL”. But, I was wrong. Isaac could see! What a happy surprise! I was totally wrong! God is


Kibuye has really become a home away from home! We love it here! The community has been so welcoming and we know we have made friends for life. What a joy and blessing it has been to our family to be here for this short time! 

No comments: