My name is Rick Rogers. I am a pediatrician from Tyler, Texas. I have served on the Young Life Africa committee for several years. This story is about my recent trip to Africa, a trip planned by God to help a dear friend get home.
This past July, my friend, Martin Wamalwa, the Young Life Regional Director for Kenya, had a serious stroke while training YL leaders in Bamako, Mali. According to Tiowa Diarra, the Mali YL area director, Martin completed the first day of training when his symptoms started, and he later developed complete left sided paralysis.
After several days, Martin was considered stable enough to travel, but it was very difficult to transfer him to Kenya. His doctor in Mali required him to travel with a physician, and that physician needed to have a valid Mali visa to enter the country. There were many potential plans made and agreements that fell through that kept this transfer from happening.
This is where I entered into Martin’s story. During the summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to go to Mali to work at a YL Camp. For this trip, I applied for a multi-entry visa. So, I was a physician, and I had a valid Mali visa. About 10 days after Martin had his stroke, I realized that I could possibly help get him home to Kenya. I had been following his progress, waiting to hear about who was going to go help, when God nudged me and encouraged me to call and offer to help. Those in charge thanked me for my offer, but at that point there were several other possible plans for the transfer, so I would be plan D. By noon the next day I had become Plan A. An amazing travel agent put together my flights: Tyler, DFW, Paris, Bamako, Addis, Nairobi, London, DFW, Tyler. I would leave the next day and return home four days later. Amazing. I had recently ordered an adult stethoscope to use on my larger patients. My new stethoscope arrived the day I left for Mali, and a friend brought by my old white Doctor’s coat that I had loaned her long ago. I was ready to go! I spent the two long flights to Mali studying up on care of stroke patients.
After landing in Mali, Tiowa met me and took me to the hospital. He and the YL team had been heroically taking care of Martin for 2 weeks. Martin had complete left-sided paralysis. There were other problems, but homesickness and fear of another stroke were high on his list. After a short sleep, we returned to the hospital and left for the airport by ambulance, complete with siren. VIP treatment in Bamako.
At the airport, I felt nervous for the first time. What if Martin deteriorated? What if he had to go to the bathroom in flight? After a difficult trip to the bathroom in the Bamako airport, we were ready to board. It was a nice surprise to have a cargo lift help us into the plane. Four of us moved Martin to a skinny wheelchair for the airplane aisles. Martin is not size skinny. Being careful with his catheter bag, we moved him into his seat. There are no good angles for lifting and transferring from wheelchairs to seats in an airplane.
The first time Martin cried was after we got settled in the plane for our eight hour flight. “I can’t believe I’m going home,” he said with tears.
We were thankful to God that he made it through the marathon flight to Addis without the need for the bathroom. We had prayed for that while in Bamako. I was thankful he had a urinary catheter for the flight. We had business class all to ourselves, making it easier to empty the urine bag into a water bottle to take to the bathroom. It was a long flight and I felt I was on-call. No wine, Ambien or sleep.
Our brief stopover in Addis was physically challenging for us, including a misadventure with Martin’s wheelchair being carried down an inoperable escalator. Martin was almost dumped out, but survived without further injury. After an awkward security screening in a bathroom, we were moved into the plane in another cargo lift with the same hard transfers.
The plane was almost full. I noticed people’s stares. Martin is a big man and he filled his business class seat. “Almost home,” we both said. When we prepared to exit the plane from the top of the cargo lift, I was extremely happy to see Mungai Kamau, Martin’s dear friend and a YL area director in Kenya, at the bottom. I was excited to see his face and his strong arms too.
Tears, laughter and great joy filled the area when we met at least 20 friends and family in Nairobi. Many things felt holy on this trip- that was a big one. Martin’s wife Alice and I rode with Martin in the ambulance to the hospital. Our group filled the patient area in the ER. The funniest people in the world, Martin’s friends, were making him laugh saying how perfect the hospital gown color was and that he should stick with that look. Martin said the longer flight and the terrible time in Addis was all worth it to be back home.
Steve Larmey (YL VP of Africa and the Middle east) and I requested to speak with Dr. Silverstein and he invited us to his office where he read out loud the summary that Dr. Laura Tormoehlen (a neurologist on the YL Africa committee) had sent me to give to him. He had already ordered or agreed to order everything we hoped for.
Then the most exciting thing happened. Martin MOVED HIS LEFT LEG!!! It was a gift to Martin and everyone, but I felt God’s personal blessing on me. I had been praying that Martin would move something during our long journey. It reminds me of the Black Spiritual song, “He may not come when you want Him, but He’ll be right on time.” Please dear God continue to heal Martin, your faithful servant and leader of so many.
I left Nairobi on the evening of that same day. My heart was light knowing that Martin had excellent medical care and was beginning to heal. Being with his family and praying friends was healing to his heart also.
My verse for Martin is: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Although Paul’s weakness was permanent, I am praying that Martin’s weakness will be temporary. Overall, I pray that this time of weakness will bring glory to God and His power would be made perfect in Martin. I pray that Martin and the world will see it, and make God famous for it.
My verse is:
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9a.
Through the blood of Christ, we have blameless hearts and are forgiven. I am thankful that God could use me to support my gentle giant of a friend Martin, and help get him home.