An aerial view of Lopiding hospital which served victims of conflict in South Sudan. The hospital was handed over to local authorities in 2006.
How much value do you place in a hospital discharge card?
For Mama Josephine Adul, a discharge card from Lopiding hospital dated 1994 symbolized two things: hope that she was now well and the child she was carrying would be well. Secondly, she believed that one day she would meet the doctors or team who had been treating her at Lopiding hospital to express her appreciation for saving her life.
On 27th November, exactly 29 years and one month after she was discharged, Josephine and her husband Rev. Saphano Riak, their two sons and a grandchild visited the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to say thank you. With her was her discharge card from Lopiding hospital which was run by the ICRC to care for victims of conflict from South Sudan.
Rev Riak's family had sought to make contact with an ICRC office and through a web search, he reached out to the Nairobi Delegation who quickly responded to his email. His request and mission were simple; the family wanted to come and say thank you for the treatment given to Mama Josephine during her hospitalization at Lopiding.
The family was received at the ICRC Nairobi offices by staff working previously in Lokichoggio; Elisheba Tek (worked 10 years in Lokichoggio) and Martin Thalmann (who did a one year mission) alongside Anne Mucheke, Deputy Communication Coordinator of ICRC Nairobi. The team listened carefully as Rev Riak, a former soldier with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) narrated how his wife was shot in Eastern Equitoria (Sudan) while running to safety and the bullet lodged across her tummy. By then she was 3 months pregnant with their first baby.
Initially, Mama Josephine was taken to the Norwegian Aid hospital in South Sudan who arranged for her airlift to ICRC's Lopiding hospital in Northern Kenya. The ICRC plane, which flew 3 times a week between Lokichogio, and South Sudan carried her to the hospital where she received care for one and a half months.
Martin Thalmann, Head of Operations, Rev Riak and his family with two ICRC staff when they paid a visit to the Nairobi Delegation.
She underwent a delicate surgery to successfully to repair injuries to some internal organs. Josephine objected to having the pregnancy terminated, seen as a risk at the time for the surgery, and the surgical team weighed the options and, in the end, opted to save the baby and mother. On her discharge, she was urged to return to Lopiding for the delivery, but baby Hakeem would come a few days earlier than anticipated and Josephine delivered normally at home to everyone's surprise.
Their son Hakeem shared that the actions of the Red Cross had spurred him to desire a career in community service where he could assist people like himself. His parents told him the circumstances surrounding his birth when he was much older, for which he immediately developed a desire to assist others in need.
At the meeting with ICRC, Mama Josephine removed her prized discharge card from her handbag. She had carried it after her discharge from Lopiding to South Sudan where the family would live for many years; to Kakuma refugee camp and eventually to Nairobi after Rev Riak settled in his work as a church minister. She spoke fondly of the medical staff, including a nurse named Joseph who made a particular impression on her for his kindness, of the cleanliness of the hospital and of fellow patients, the majority of whom were orthopedic patients. She was thankful for the few weeks spent at the Lopiding hospital.
Josephine's card which was given to her on discharge from Lopiding hospital in 1994. She has kept it all those years.
Martin Thalmann, now Head of Operations at ICRC Nairobi, spoke of the rarity of the family's gesture, saying that the ICRC indeed supports many people who need our help, in line with ICRC's mandate, but it is rare for people to come back to say 'Thank you' for the support received. In the case of Rev. Riak's family, it was more special given they had sought for many years to reconnect with the ICRC.
At the height of its operations, Lopiding hospital successfully carried out over 4,000 operations annually, about 60,000 in the 19 years it existed. Over 37,905 patients from Sudan received treatment many of them undergoing multiple operations. In 2006 it was handed over to the Kenyan authorities.
Lopiding Hospital with surgery ongoing
Stories like this spur on the work of the ICRC wherever it operates. In another search operation, one of our international delegates sought to find a connection to her Italian grandfather who had been detained in Kenya in pre-colonial days. Her request to the ICRC archives brought out correspondence showing that indeed, the ICRC visited her grandfather as a Prisoner of War (PoW) incarcerated in Kenya in the 1940s. It was a great delight for her on realizing that years ago, her grandfather was supported by the same organization she now works for, and even more wonderful, in detention where he was assisted.