Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Many times when I fly I don’t have the opportunity to hear about the work that my passengers are involved in.  Usually because of the noise of the engine as well as because of my headset and the communications that go on in my ear as I fly, chatting with a passenger as we fly just isn’t an option.  Once in a while I have the chance to fly some people when I do know the story behind the flight.  This is the story of such a flight that I flew a few weeks ago.

It all began with the sound of my cell phone ring tone floating into my ears from the kitchen counter.  I answered the phone and listened as our operations manager informed me that there was a very good likelihood that the next day I would be needed to fly my 206 over to a little town called Kisoro, located down in the southwest corner of Uganda where Uganda meets Rwanda and Congo.  There was a little 9 month old baby boy named Bright who was very close to death and was in dire need of a medevac.  The doctor in his village didn’t think that he would be able to survive the long drive over the rough roads to the hospital, so unless there was a large positive change in his condition overnight I would be needed to go and pick him up to bring him to a hospital where he could be given proper medical care.

The next morning after a short phone call confirming the need for a medevac, I found myself driving through the morning Kampala traffic on the way to the airport.  The sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly as I pre-flighted my aircraft and prepared for the medevac.  I removed one of the seats so that there would be a place for Bright to lie if he needed to lay down for the flight.  I made sure that the medical kit was securely stowed in the baggage compartment, then climbed up into my seat and started my engine.  Taking off, I climbed swiftly up into the brilliant azure sky and took a heading to the southwest towards Kisoro. 

Flying into Kisoro is a lot of fun, although challenging as well.  The airstrip is quite high, at 6100 feet elevation, with high ridges all around, and it is surrounded by dormant volcanoes.  The airstrip itself is also uniquely interesting, as about one third of the way down the runway a fairly major paved road cuts across it.  About two minutes before landing, they send out security officers to close the road so that it is safe for me to land.  I called them on the HF radio as I crossed over the high ridge to the east and as I circled overhead, descending, they went out and stopped traffic on either side of the runway.  I've only been there a few times, but I'm always acutely aware of the crowd of people who are standing there watching me land my airplane.  The approach and landing went very well, and after landing I taxied over to the parking area and shut down.  The nurses and little baby Bright were waiting for me and when I shut down they pulled their vehicle up to the plane.  As soon as the door opened I could hear the little guy’s raspy breathing as he laid there physically struggling to inhale every breath of air.  The sound of it evoked strong feelings within me as I prepared my plane for departure.  No child should have to work that hard just to breathe.

I readied the plane for departure, and the nurses kept him on oxygen until the last second before moving him into the airplane.  We don’t have oxygen in our 206’s and at this altitude there is already so much less oxygen in the air to begin with.  This was something that was weighing heavily on my heart, as the only way to get out of that valley was to climb out over the high mountain ridges surrounding it.  With every foot of elevation that I gained there would be less and less oxygen for the little guy to breathe.  Altitude was the enemy but the only way to get further down was for me to initially go further up.  Baby Bright and the two nurses that were accompanying us climbed into the back of my airplane, and I helped Bright's mother fasten her harness properly up in the front seat beside me. 

I took a minute to pray for Bright and our situation, and then we took off.  Airplanes typically perform worse as the altitude increases (they don't appreciate the thin air either).  This manifests itself in things like poorer climb performance and longer take off rolls. A steady headwind helped us out, and we were able to take off easily.  As we slowly climbed upwards away from Kisoro, I aimed for the lowest point on the ridge and prayed that the little guy would be ok and that I wasn’t suffocating him as I scraped over the lowest ridge to the east at 8200 feet.  The nurses in the back seat were monitoring him closely and were prepared to “bag” him quickly so that they could breathe for him should he become unable to breathe for himself.  Often there is turbulent air above mountain ridges, and I was thankful that as we cleared the ridge there was only very light turbulence.  Once we were clear of the ridge I was able begin slowly and steadily descending, and thirty minutes later I landed my precious cargo at a small town called Mbarara.  

There is a good hospital there, and the doctor and ambulance were waiting beside the runway to meet us.  Baby Bright was loaded into the ambulance, and as I started up my airplane and taxied out onto the runway I saw them driving off into town.  I launched into the air and made my way back home to Kampala.  Cruising home in the cool air at 10,000 feet, I had time to reflect on the privilege that is mine to be here in Uganda, serving God simply through flying my airplane excellently, helping out these servants of God from all over the world as they also seek to serve our Lord and minister to the people here in Africa.

The following is taken from MAF Canada's website, and is the story of Bright as told from the side of those on the ground there in Kisoro that day. 

"[Nine month old] Bright was anything but bright, he was looking exhausted by the fight for life. Slowly the story unfolded, Bright was the last born boy in a family whose girls thrived but the boys had all died at around nine months.  Bright’s grandmother lost three boys, his aunt lost two; Bright’s brother, Bright’s parents first born child had died, now Bright, the 5th in the family, looked as if he too would follow them….

This child was clearly suffering, and he had been so from birth, the other boys in the family had all experienced similar symptoms before they died, the possibility of a genetic problem was high.  Obtaining a diagnosis and finding treatment would not only help Bright, but it would bring healing to the village and glory to the name of the Lord.

So Bright was examined by PV medical staff and possible congenital abnormalities were suspected which needed thorough investigation, apart from that he was free from signs of infection.  Plans were made for Bright and his mother to travel by road to the hospital on Monday escorted by the PV senior nurse.  They went home having been instructed to come back to PV on Sunday night ready for a very early start on Monday morning.  However, on Friday night Bright developed pneumonia and early Saturday morning he was back in Potter’s Village considerably worse, his mother was very anxious and clearly thought Bright was dying.

Admitted to PV medical centre and on oxygen, Bright’s vital signs improved a little. He was seen by the local paediatrician who prescribed medication to help him through the immediate crisis, but Bright was still a very sick child and the journey to Mbarara over dusty and rough roads was out of the question, there was no way he would survive [the journey].  Monday came and Bright was still critically sick, he needed more help urgently but he was too sick to get to it.  What to do?

How amazing that a single phone call can change despair to hope.  To hear a voice on the end of the phone making free, safe and fast transport a reality and not a dream brought joy to our hearts and rising hope to the heart of Bright’s mother.  We will never forget the day MAF were able to confirm that a plane would come to Kisoro and take our critically sick baby to a place where there was a better chance his life could be saved.

On Tuesday the PV pickup was loaded with a generator and oxygen concentrator, and Bright and his mum plus two paediatric nurses embarked on a journey to attempt to save Bright’s life as he was transported slowly to the airstrip.  How sweet to hear the sound of that little aeroplane approaching the airstrip, Bright remained on oxygen until the moment he was taken on board.  The pilot of the aeroplane was Dallas (MAF Canada Pilot Dallas Derksen), and he prayed for Bright and for all those travelling with him before they boarded.  Bright survived the 35 minute flight, very poorly without his oxygen, but he was still breathing.  The flight was met by a paediatrician and an ambulance equipped with oxygen and Bright was stabilised before he was moved on to a much better equipped hospital…. May the name of God be praised and may he richly bless all those who helped us to help Bright, especially MAF without whom Bright would be dead.”

I wish I could tell you that in this case everything turned out fabulously, and that Bright is continuing to recover from his sickness today, but that is not the case.  For the next couple of weeks his condition changed for the better and then for the worse, and just a few days ago we were saddened to hear that he had passed away. An update on the MAF UK website says;

"Thank you so much for praying for Bright over the weekend. We have just received some sad news. Bright was too frail. Specialised x-rays were carried out late last week which identified the problem as a connection between his trachea and his oesophagus. This meant that Bright’s lungs were filling up with food and milk. Soon after identifying this problem, Bright’s condition deteriorated. He was stabilised again, but later suddenly collapsed and died. What now? Are our prayers in vain? We don’t believe so.

God is good and His ways are far, far greater than our ways. Will He use this situation to bring healing to the community? Will God’s light penetrate through and bring lasting change? That is our prayer. Jenny Green, Director of The Potter’s Village, attended Bright’s funeral at the weekend, and with it was an opportunity to explain to them why he died.
She asks, ‘Please pray that God silences these lies of Satan that give power of fear over people and divide families and communities and they seek revenge, and create poverty as they sacrifice everything to reverse the “curse”.’ 

With specialist medical facilities so hard to come by in countries such as Uganda, Bright’s story is all too common. The Potter’s Village is praying for antenatal and neonatal screening to be available there. If other babies like Bright can be diagnosed earlier, then how many more lives can be saved? We will continue to work with partners like The Potter’s Village, doing everything we can to bring help and hope to those who need it most.

Thank you for continuing to pray."

I also ask that you continue to pray for Bright's family and village.  Pray that God's love would penetrate their hearts and that they would be freed from the bondage that pervades their village and their lives.  Thank you for praying, it is making a difference in the lives of people here in Uganda.  It is because of all of you that we are able to be here and to serve these people here in Uganda.  Thank you so much for your prayers.

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