On 15 June, MAF carried out a medevac for two-year Ojiya and her dad Justin Boniface so she could receive life-saving surgery at Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi. The two-year-old captured the heart of Doctor Ilirjan Bashllari and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) Cole Tideswell and Ingo Muller at the Ami Expeditionary Healthcare hospital in Juba.
Two-year-old Ojiya is snuggled in her dad’s arms as they wait to board the MAF flight. She is small for her age but looks otherwise healthy. Appearances are deceptive. Ojiya was born, nearly three years ago with her bowl outside her body, a condition known as gastroschisis, which is caused when the abdominal wall does not form completely in the womb. Soon after she was born, the toddler underwent an operation, which was unsuccessful.
Almost three years later she was brought to AMI clinic in Juba by her worried parents, after her health began to deteriorate. ‘It is an extraordinary and unique situation - that she survived up until this point and didn’t catch severe septicaemia,’ EMT Cole Tideswell explains incredulously.
Medevaced with MAF
AMI has good facilities and capable staff who can respond in a medical emergency, but they are not set up to deliver the kind of advanced surgical procedure Ojiya required. ‘We made arrangements for her to go to the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi which is the most appropriate place for her to receive treatment. The correct paediatric surgeons are there to treat her,’ Ingo Muller explains.
Land-transport wasn’t possible due to Ojiya’s fragile condition while an expensive medical evacuation flight was beyond the family’s means. ‘Aga Khan University Hospital agreed to do the operation, and from our side everything was in place, but the transport was the challenge as there was not funds for a specialist medevac. We had to work out, how do we connect this place with that place. We were stuck!’ said Doctor Ilirjan Bashllari, explaining the team’s dilemma.
Then Ingo remembered an old school friend, Tobias Meyer, who he’d heard was serving as a pilot with MAF in Juba. MAF’s small planes offered the perfect compromise, enabling a door-to-door service for Ojiya and her father on MAF’s regular shuttle flight. She could be transported to the plane by ambulance in Juba and picked up at Nairobi Wilson Airport for a direct transfer to Aga Khan University Hospital. The risk of catching a virus or infection in the crowded terminal or on a busy commercial flight could be mitigated.
Major Surgery and Expert Care
With the transport arranged, the family were able to concentrate on preparing for the complicated surgery Ojiya would undergo. ‘The surgeons will not have an easy task to perform,’ Dr Ilirjan shared before the operation. ‘They will have to reconstruct the guts to close the fistula and repair the abdominal wall. It will be a long, complicated, and difficult surgery – but at least she will have a fighting chance.’
‘Credit for treating her was due to the AMI nursing staff who cared for her in the hospital and redressed the wound to prevent sepsis. If we did nothing, the risks of sepsis and death within the next year would be quite high,’ Cole explains.
The procedure was carried out a few days after they arrived at the hospital, taking five long hours. Afterwards, Ojiya received specialist aftercare in the paediatric intensive care unit until she was strong enough to be discharged pending further reconstructive surgery in a few months’ time.
Recovering at home
On Friday 7 July, Ojiya boarded the return flight to Juba to be reunited with her mum and two other siblings. Boniface wore a beaming smile as he stepped off the plane in Juba with Ojiya in his arms.
A few days later he reported that Ojiya was recovering ‘Her operation was done successfully and now we’re back to Juba. Ojiya is getting better and better every day,’ he shared.
Ojiya will require follow-up surgery and Dr Ilirjan will continue to provide advice and support in Juba to help establish normal bowel activity and function post-surgery.
Thanks to the partnership between AMI and MAF, Ojiya is one step closer to a full recovery.
‘MAF offered the possibility of surgery to that family. Your services were extremely valuable, because without MAF, the surgery would not become a reality. Sincerely thank you. MAF offered her the possibility to have the best treatment around. The most difficult part of the process was done by MAF,’ says Dr Ilirjan.
A Father’s Thanks
Boniface adds his thanks to the teams at AMI, MAF and Aga Khan University hospital for caring for his daughter. ‘I would like to thank MAF and Ami Expeditionary Healthcare clinic for the genuine support they gave me in transportation of my daughter from Juba to Aga Khan University hospital Nairobi. I thank all the teams that participated, may God’s blessing rain upon you abundantly as you continue to save people of this country.’
‘AMI Health Care - thank you for the love you showed in your hospital, I know your being here in this country will be a great help to the people of South Sudan.
‘For MAF, I understand you are truly doing God’s ministry in South Sudan. Thank you very much for that service I personally appreciate it. May almighty God continue blessing you to save the people of South Sudan.’