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Sudan: how wonderful it is to walk again

28-11-2008 Feature

The armed conflict that raged in Southern Sudan for years until 2005 killed nearly two million people and maimed thousands of others. Mary Angau, who was only seven when she lost her leg, shares her story with the ICRC’s Anne Kilimo.

 A brush with death  

You could see the pain in Mary Angau's eyes as she reflects on her brush with death14 years ago. Armed men had attacked her village and started shooting.

Mary was only seven then and had no idea why her sleep was interrupted by the shooting. She woke up and started to run. She did not know where she was going but she suddenly fell, tried to get up again and realized she could not. She had been shot in the leg. Mary's bone had been shattered and she could no longer walk.

" I did not think I would live. The pain was too much. I cried all the time. " She could not scream despite the pain she felt in her leg for fear of being killed by the attackers. At daybreak, her family found her and they fled to Lobone.

 Out on a limb    
  © ICRC    
 
  Juba, Sudan. Mary being fitted with a new prosthesis to replace a broken one.    
     

" My mother was sure I would die. She had given up on me " , Mary says. It was at Lobone that they heard of ICRC airlifts for people with similar injuries to the organization’s Lopiding hospital in neighbouring Kenya. Mary was airlifted on the next flight to Lopiding, but it was too late to save her leg; because she had been unable to receive timely treatment, the leg had to be amputated.

" At the beginning, I was not sad to lose my leg. I was in so much pain it was a relief. " She explains. " Only later did I realize how difficult it would be for me to live without the leg. I could no longer run and play with my friends. "

But there was a consolation. At least she could walk once again after she was fitted with prosthesis at the hospital. She even enrolled in a school in the nearby Kakuma refugee camp where she went to live with a distant relative after the treatment.

Mary returned to her home in Nimule after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the end of the war in 2005. She now lives with her brother. Her parents died while she was in Kenya.

" Even though this is not a real leg, I am happy and thank God that I can walk and do a lot of things for myself. Without it, life would be hard for me. " she remarks. For her, just as it is for most other people with disabilities, being fitted with prostheses is a life-long concern.

She cannot recall the exact number of prostheses she has had but says they are very many. " When I was small the prosthesis was changed regularly because I was growing. Sometimes it would break and I would go back to have it repaired or replaced. This is the reason I came this time. It is broken again. "

 ICRC helps disabled people get back on their feet  

Mary is one of the many disabled people living in Southern Sudan. Since July 2006, the ICRC has been supporting the orthopaedic centre in Juba, run by the Nile Assistance for the Disabled, to provide prostheses and orthoses for people disabled during the war or more recently as a result of mines, gun shots or snake bites. So far, 1,541 people have benefited from the services offered there, including 362 new patients fitted with prostheses and orthoses.

The centre receives patients from hospitals in various states of Southern Sudan and from other organizations. Unfortunately, the guesthouse where patients stay is very small and can only accommodate ten patients. When she comes for the fitting Mary, who lives in another state, has to look for relatives and other people to provide her with accommodation, which she finds quite difficult. She wishes similar services were available near her home.

Fortunately for her and other patients who live far from Juba the accommodation problem may soon be a thing of the past. The reason is the impending handover by the ICRC – in December 2008 – of the Physical Rehabilitation Centre in Juba to the authorities in Southern Sudan.

Constructed and equipped by the ICRC, the centre can house 60 patients per month and offer services to 100 patients when it operates at full capacity. The ICRC has sponsored 20 orthopaedic technicians and two physiotherapists for training in Sudan, Rwanda and Tanzania to enable them to provide the much-needed services at the new centre.

The ICRC supports orthopaedic centres in five other cities covering most of Sudan; Khartoum, Nyala, Kadugli, Kassala and Damazin.