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US-based medic reunites with kind lady who saved his life 30 years ago

By Boniface Manyala | September 5th 2021

MOHAMMED JUMA MOHAMED, a nurse in the US, came back to Kenya last month in search of the woman who treated him 30 years ago after he was badly burned by a house fire in Somalia. He spoke to BONIFACE MANYALA.

The 1991 civil strife in Somalia will be remembered for a number of things, including the displacement of many Somali citizens, who ended up in various countries across the globe. For Mohamed Jama Mohamed, when Somalia burst into flames in February 1991, a house he was in also burst into flames ignited by petrol that was being kept there. The fire burnt his body and completely changed his life.

Mohamed, who at the time worked with the ministry of Agriculture in his country, was being accommodated at his friend’s house in Jubaland. The friend sold petrol from his premises. On the day of the incident, Mohamed and his friend were pouring gallons of petrol into buckets when someone unknowingly walked into the room with a lamp, which caused a huge fire that severely burned Mohamed in the face, back, hands and stomach. He suffered about 35 per burns on the body.

To access medication, Mohamed needed to travel to Kismayu, about 70 kilometres away. He was also facing the challenge of transportation. Because the country had erupted into civil war, sounds of gunfire being heard everywhere and transportation from one point to another was critically affected. To get to Kismayu, Mohamed hitched a ride on a pickup truck belonging to fighters.

“They placed me on the floor behind the truck where I was lying as the truck was speeding to Kismayu in the middle of the night. It was very cold and I could feel my paining body freeze... I cried hard, I was in pain, the only thing I wished for was to death,” Mohamed recalled.

When they arrived in Kismayu, they found the hospital packed with people who were running away from their homes trying to get a safe haven and a possible escape to neighbouring countries through the port of Kismayu. The entire hospital compound was filled with people but had no nurses or doctors on sight.

“I did not know anyone in Kismayu and the hospital had been converted into a refugee camp. There was no doctor, no nurses and no form of treatment going on. I was in pain and my face was swollen. Someone approached me and asked if I could consider using a skin pain reliever ordinarily used by veterinary personnel on animals. I used it for a couple of days,” Mohamed says.

“We continued to camp at the hospital for days as the war worsened until one day we were told to go board a ship at Kismayu that would transport us to Mombasa in Kenya,” he says.
They were over 800 people aboard the ship, which took seven days to reach Mombasa but it did not dock because of clearance issues that needed to be sorted with the Kenyan authorities.

They sat and waited in the ship for 10 days. When they were finally granted permission to dock, it had been 17 days of serious pain for Mohamed and still without treatment. In Mombasa, the refugees were taken to Majengo. That is where Mohamed tried to get medication.

He was helped by a well-wisher to travel to Nairobi from where he was eventually taken to Isiolo by a friend, who lived in Eastleigh to seek medication.

“I ended up in Isiolo for treatment finding a young nurse who looked shocked at the severity of my burns but promised to support me until I could get well,” Mohamed says.

Because he could neither speak English well nor speak a word in Kiswahili, the nurse took him to a ward with a television set so that he would not feel lonely in the course of his treatment. Mohamed remembers that every morning the nurse would bring him fruits, insisting they were important for his recovery. By then, he had undergone surgery and skin grafting. Three months later, Mohamed was informed that he was ready to be discharged.

“Because I did not have any relatives around, she took me to her house, made me tea and escorted me to the bus station,” says Mohamed.

A few months later, Mohamed was lucky to be repatriated to the United States by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees where he settled and went back to college to study as a surgical technician and nurse.
Mohamed, who is currently a nurse at the University of Minnesota Medical Centre, is married and has four children.

Last month, he visited Kenya after 30 years to look for Florence Lintari, the nurse who treated him in Isiolo.
With links in both the US and Kenya, he finally found Florence, who retired in 2020 and currently lives in Machakos town. Her final work station was at Machakos Level 5 Hospital.

“I am so happy to meet her again after 30 years. She didn’t even know where I went to after I left Isiolo, so I came back to look for her and thank her for treating me and saving my life. In fact, she inspired me to take up a course as a nurse so that I can help other people,” says Mohamed.

He has since established a medical charity, Health Extension, Promotion and Training Organisation (Hepto) with its head office in Minnesota, US and branches in Ethiopia and Somalia. He says Hepto Kenya office will open its doors soon and Florence will be instrumental in its administration. 

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