As a young man living in a country where 69% of the population live on less than a dollar a day, the odds are already stacked against you. Access to medical resources is limited at the best of times let alone when you live eight hours from the nearest hospital. When I say eight hours, that’s eight hours according to your chosen map application. Real time? Who can say? It depends how many crazy ‘matatus’ (over subscribed people carrier-style taxis driven exclusively by men with a death wish) are going your way, or if there has been a characteristically unpredictable downpour that has turned the dirt roads into sticky clay. Throw in a battle with cancer and an above the knee amputation and you begin to wonder where exactly that would leave you.
This is exactly the situation seventeen-year-old Michael found himself in last year.
Laura Pemberton was on her second year medical placement at Mulago hospital in Uganda’s capital Kampala, when Michael had to have one of his legs amputated, due to bone cancer too advanced to treat. Laura contacted me via the Legs4Africa website asking if we had ever shipped any equipment to Uganda and with limited resources at that point, unfortunately there were no imminent plans for Legs4Africa to do so. She explained Michael’s situation to me and thanks to some kind of beautiful twist of fate or maybe because the universe is actually pretty good after all, it just so happened that I was making a personal trip to Uganda to visit a close friend.
Fast forward to April of this year and I’m trundling through the London underground on my way to Heathrow airport with sixty kilos of luggage, wondering who actually thought this was a good idea? Naturally, one leg turned into two, which then turned into a whole bunch! Then, somehow, they didn’t make their way from the transit airport to arrive in Entebbe at the same time as me. It was the last thing I needed after 15 hours of travelling. Imagine after all of those promises I made, I could be turning up to the hospital with nothing, and I had limited time in Kampala.
I was heading eight hours north the following day so the components had to be handed over that day or not at all. Once again, fate and the universe were on our side and I woke up to the precious cargo waiting for me, ready to be taken to Mulago’s Orthotics department.
Despite the hiccups it was a successful trip and a huge relief to be able to provide what I had promised. In true Ugandan fashion I was welcomed with warmth and gratitude by my contact, Mr. Yosiah Muhindo, who kindly took time out of his Good Friday celebrations to show me the fascinating work being done. After taking me on tour of the hospital workshops, he surprised me by allowing me to meet with Michael and his family. If you want to talk about ‘it all being worth it’ then this was it: watching the pure joy on Michael’s face when he got to pick his new leg or realizing the significance of what was happening by the look on his mother’s face was enough to make all of the obstacles seem insignificant. Now Michael is going back to school with the ability to ride a bike, play football, support himself as a young adult, take care of his parents in their old age – all of the things he was expecting to do as he grew up.
I was particularly struck by Michael’s resolve. He didn’t seem like someone who would have become a victim of his circumstances and I believe that he would have achieved it all in his own right regardless. I can only begin to imagine what he will be capable of with full mobility and independence.
If you are heading out to Gambia, Ghana or Uganda and would like to take some life-changing equipment then please let us know here.