Luckily for me, life in Eldoret would keep me occupied from the moment we landed and almost all thoughts of Kilimanjaro left my mind. As we collected our massive piles of baggage containing medical instruments and supplies from the airport, our entire crew piled into vans that would take us to the Indiana University house (aka. IU House). If anyone was tired at this point the drive from the airport should've cured that! I thought driving in the states could be scary but I was sadly mistaken. I'm pretty sure there are no traffic laws or no one follows them! Whoever is the most aggressive wins! In between the moments of shear terror on the roads I was able to look around and catch my first glimpses of real African life. Huts lined the road. Bikes road perilously along the side of the dangerous roads. Children seemed to wander without supervision. I can still clearly picture one boy sitting along the side of road, covered in dirt, no shoes, no adult insight. We're definitely not in the states anymore.
Once we pulled in the "the compound" where the IU house is, the chaos of the African streets subsided. Dave and I were shown to our room which was very nice, two twin beds with mosquito nets. After getting settled we met Dr. Chite Asirwa who is from Kenya and the man responsible for this collaboration. He is a very enthusiastic and determined person and instead of resting the first day he decided we should take a tour of the facilities which included the hospital, AMPATH, Moi University Teaching and Referral Hospital and the Blood Center. In all reality, I expected that the hospital would be much different to what we have in the states but the difference was absolutely shocking. As we entered the adult ward of the hospital, the smell was indescribable. I keep thinking of that smell, trying to figure out what it was, and the only possible description is of decay and filth. We turned the corner to enter where the patients actually stay, a hallway leading to open rooms on either side with 6 to 8 beds with a total of four sets of rooms. Unthinkable amounts of patients were strung about. Most beds contained at least two patients and countless others lay or sat on the floor in between. I wish I could describe the conditions, the smells. Overloaded senses prevented me from being able to focus on the specifics of the hospital but as I looked around I spotted a man lying, screaming in agony, a pile of mucous pooling beside his mouth, flies circling. This man was dying, quickly, and there was nothing that could be done. I felt so hopeless. I never could’ve imagined a place like this before, where humans, people just like me, suffered so much. All I wanted to do was help but there was nothing I could do. Our tour from that point forward was a blur. I could barely tell you what we saw, all I could see in my mind was the ward. Of those on the ward, 80% had HIV and 40% tuberculosis. I couldn’t bare to ask how many ever made it out of there. I’m sure it wasn’t many.
We returned to the IU house after our tour and had some time to reflect upon what we had seen that day. I have to say that experience will stick with me the rest of my life. To bring the situation even closer to home, Dr. Ann Griest, an adult hematologist from IU, had seen a 15 year old boy with hemophilia. He had been admitted to the hospital with abdominal pain several weeks before our arrival and the first thing done was an appendectomy. Unknown to anyone, including the patient, was the fact he had hemophilia. As one may suspect, abdominal surgery without factor is not a good thing. Dr. Griest found him in the surgical ward bleeding everywhere. He was lying on blood covered sheets, his bandages completely soaked through, barely hanging on to life. Dr. Griest took a gamble with some expired factor she had brought with her. She injected this young boy with FVIII, having no clear diagnosis for hemophilia A but knowing that some kind of action needed to be taken to save his life. The gamble worked. His bandages had been changed after Dr. Griest infused him and little bleeding continued. He was getting better. He by no means was out of the woods but he now had a chance. This really hit home for me. What if I wasn’t born where I was? I could easily have been the one lying there, dying. I felt guilty. I was planning on climbing Kilimanjaro for fun and this young boy with the same condition, that lives only hours from the mountain, is just struggling to survive.
My first day in Kenya was a huge wake up call. I had been so naïve to others struggles around the world especially those with hemophilia. The pictures below are of the patient with hemophilia I described above. I apologize for their graphic nature but I think it is important to show them and the importance of factor, especially in life or death situations. The first picture (left) is what he looked like when we arrived in Kenya. He was struggling to live and you can visible see the amount of blood loss. He didn’t have much time to live. The next picture is after his first infusion of factor (middle). The bandages were finally changed and it is easy to tell the improvement in bleeding. The final picture is out last day in Kenya (right) and he is almost fully recovered and ready to leave the hospital! Dr. Griest gave him several doses of factor over the two weeks we were there and this truly saved his life!