Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 After a weekend of traveling over 10,000 miles, our team made it to Kenya. We really didn’t know what to expect today but we knew we were going to get to see the new outpatient building. Last year that building was just a crazy idea and a huge dream so today was really special. Jeff told me to be careful what you say around The Living Room, cause they make stuff happen! The entire staff greeted our team. They sang, prayed and each staff member was introduced. We got to meet the two Kenyan PT’s that work at the Living Room, Geoffrey and Joanne. Geoffrey has been there for about a year and this was Joanne’s first week at the Living Room. They really made us feel welcomed. The morning started off with a tour of the new building to cast a vision for the space. The building is not quite finished and now Jeff, Julie and David (from the Living Room) are dreaming about an even newer building. This one would house an outpatient PT, OT and wound care center. They talked about including neuro, spinal cord, orthopedic and pediatric care. God has really lead the Living Room team and now Compassion PT is thrilled to be partnering with them. After the tour, it was time to get to work so Jeff and Natalie joined Geoffrey and Joanne on their morning rounds. The patients really didn’t know what to think about Jeff who immediately got busy stretching them and asking them a million questions. Of course they loved sweet Natalie. It’s funny, by the end of the week, these same patients would see Nat or Jeff walk by and beg them to stop and stretch them! I finally got to meet Jacob, the reason I first wanted to go on this trip. Jacob was a teacher and school administrator and was shot in the back a couple of years ago. This injury left him a paraplegic. He was left in bed for months and ended up with terrible pressure sores. When Jeff told me about meeting him last year, his story broke my heart. Compassion PT paid for his surgeries, and now his wounds are just about healed. It is our dream that Jacob will one day return to the classroom and lead an independent life. In the mean time he is on the mend and works with the child patients at the Living Room. His story really hit home, as my son, Brian, suffered a spinal cord injury six years ago and leads a very independent life. I hope the same for Jacob. Jacob also has a new roommate, Nicholas. He too, has a spinal cord injury and terrible pressure sores on both heals from lying in a bed too long. Nicolas was so excited to work with Jeff. Jeff taught him tons of upper body exercises he can do while he recovers. Both men have fighting spirits and will experience better recovery with exercise and stretching. Jeff left them in the good hands of Geoffrey and Joanne. We look forward to hearing great things about those guys!
Tuesday, November 12, 2013 This morning started off with a new challenge. There is a sweet girl, Charlene, who has CP and lives her life in a wheelchair. She doesn’t speak but that doesn’t stop her from communicating. She screams in delight when Nat walks by and is not stingy with her smiles. She is delightful and Nat considered sneaking her on the plane and taking her home. Juli found her a great new chair with a headrest but with her poor neck control, she still needed some extra support. Jeff and Nat brought some splinting material that softens in boiling water and then hardens into any shape you make it. They decided to make her a homemade neck brace. They had never done this before, but that did not stop them. The kitchen crew looked on as they borrowed a large pot and their stove. It took them a few tries to get it right, but they ended up making two neck braces for Charlene out of splinting material, towels, tape, TED hose and a soft casting sleeve. Charlene’s chair and this new brace, provides the perfect ride now. The afternoon was filled seeing outpatients in the new clinic. Jeff, Nat and their Kenyan counterparts worked with people from the surrounding village who made their way to the Living Room to get much needed therapy. Tonight was my first trip to the children’s home. It was really cool to visit cause I have seen pictures of this place for years at Hillside Church. I was very proud of the folks at Hillside who had the vision to help get this built. I loved how cows were just roaming the grounds like large dogs. I was impressed that children that crossed our paths put out their hands and introduced themselves. Wow, where did I go wrong as a mom? The children’s home is set up as “families”. Each parent couple has about a dozen kids in their family. It is so organized and you can feel the love as we toured the place. Jeff brought gifts to two brothers from his sister-in-law’s family. They adopted the boys long ago and Jeff got to present them with gifts. That was a cool moment. Natalie bumped into Flovia, a cute little girl she met on her last trip. These kids are thriving, love God and each other. It shaped up to be a great day and we are getting into a groove. We went to bed way too early. Nat and I woke up at three and talked for two hours like we were at a slumber party. I guess our giggling echoed through the house cause we kept Jeff awake and he was on the other side of the house!
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 Time is flying in Kenya. The countryside is beautiful and every person I meet is very friendly. Jeff and Nat were ecstatic with the eight runners today at the runner’s clinic. They were in their element. Jeff and Nat diagnosed each runner’s problems and worked with them for at least 30 minutes each. Jeff gave his famous elbow “massages” and the runner’s expressions looked just like his American clients during their treatment except that the Kenyans were all very polite and didn’t scream in pain. Geoffrey and Joanne watched earnestly and I think they realize that they have BIG shoes to fill. He told Natalie that after we are gone, he plans on copying Jeff’s approach and run a quick paced runner’s clinic.
After the runner’s clinic, Natalie and Jeff taught an impromptu splinting class in Natalie’s workshop…i.e. a gurney used as a table in the kitchen hallway near a large pot of boiling water bubbling over a large open flame. OSHA would frown as Jeff almost caught his trouser leg on fire several times in the narrow hallway. Geoffrey and Joanne both crafted beautiful wrist splints. Joanne loved doing this and we were now convinced she was going to be a great addition to Geoffrey’s team. He told Natalie that he feels he is learning so much and that he is growing everyday as a clinician. The team then moved to the sunny patio and worked out inpatient clients there. Nicholas is so energized by exercise. He has a huge desire to get stronger. I think he feels exercise is the ticket. The elderly ladies love Nat and even though some are fading fast, they’ll work with the exercise band if sweet Nat ask. Yes, I am traveling with two real missionaries. Jeff’s vision and enthusiasm is contagious and a once quiet and reserved Juli has now jumped on the Jeff train. The patients fear him, the Kenyan therapist revere him and the runners at the clinic think he is a crazy American stretching guru. He is leaving causalities wherever he roams through the Living Room grounds…sore muscles the patients didn’t even know they had and huge smiles on their faces because of their newly acquired physical skills. Natalie is a lover of people and is like the pied piper. She magically charms the old, tickles the young and the runners were in awe of a beautiful young woman who knows her stuff. She was born to do this work. Just like philanthropist Bob Goff, I hope one day her TEAM job will be the way she fundraises for her real job…mission work. There will be a giant hole at the Living Room when she leaves. Again we visited the children’s home and were in charge of the devotion. We thought that only Jeff was going to be asked to share so Nat and I were totally caught off guard when they asked us to speak also. We had an awkward three minutes or so staring at one another. Our minds went blank and we thought,“got nothing.” I taught for 20 years and had 80 sets of eyes looking at me and could hardly remember my name. I will blame it on jet lag. Nat saved the day and shared her testimony, which gave me time come up with a little story about Esther in the Bible. Still there was more time to kill so David, a guy who had been serving there saved the day with a little sermonette. It’s always better anyway coming from a young guy with cool tattoos. We tried to stay up until 11 so we wouldn’t wake up a dozen times during the night. Nat and Jeff used the time to dream about the next trip. God is showing them little by little. This whole thing started with a need from Juli. Jeff and Nat responded and now an outpatient clinic rose up out of the African soil and an even bigger building is being dreamed about for more outpatient needs…all because two people responded to a calling from God. Remember people don’t do amazing things; God does amazing things through people who say YES. This whole trip is about YES. Compassion PT thrives on YES and as long as God keeps talking to Juli, Jeff and Nat, Compassion PT will say YES to God….more to come.
Thursday, November 14, 2013 Another busy day but a couple of things stand out. Christopher, this cute little three year old who hasn’t’ quite learned how to walk on his own used the pediatric walker we brought with us today. Jeff stretched out his little legs and ankles and put Chris behind the walker. He didn’t just walk; he flew. Chris ran around the patio pushing that walker and screaming in glee. A while later, Chris received a surprise visitor….his dad. Chris was left at the Living Room a while back cause dad could no longer care for him. I guess he wants to give it another try. It was bittersweet as we said goodbye to Chris. The staff will miss him but knows every kid wants to be home. The team thinks with some outpatient visits, Chris will be walking sooner than later. Two more runners showed up today in the outpatient clinic. Jeff said that he has worked with athletes for many years and the runners he has met in Kenya rank among the top. It was funny to hear Jeff give them running shoe advice and try to change their minds to wear Jeff’s favorite brand…American PT telling Kenyan 2:13 marathoners what shoes to wear. They assured Jeff they would stick to what works for them. However, now that they know all the important stretching techniques taught by Jeff and Nat, I bet they can shave a little off their time.
We had our first return client today. A wonderful woman who had back surgery showed up on Tuesday and then returned for more treatment today. She has not really stood or walked since her surgery and that was some time ago. She was wearing an ankle brace and her other leg had trouble straightening. Jeff stood her at the parallel bars on Tuesday and this motivated her to buy a walker and practice at home. She brought her husband today who was going to help her get better. I was watching all of this and suggested we teach her husband how to stand her in the walker. Jeff told me to go ahead since I had seen it done millions of times at Project Walk. I sat in front of her, locked out her knees, grabbed her backside and voila….she stood up like a statue! We then had her husband repeat the process and he did a great job. I was so excited for them and her enthusiasm. This sweet lady will one day be taking steps again. I know that Geoffrey and Joanne will see her in outpatient and be the catalyst for change in her life. Jeff and Nat left the room for an instant and her husband asked if he could borrow the wheelchair until he could find her one. I got a little ahead of myself and told them I brought that wheelchair all the way from America for them to keep! They were ecstatic and so was I until I learned I broke protocol and gave away something without checking first. Oh well, I guess they’ll post a pic of me on the staffroom wall that reads, “WANTED…over zealous missionary.” Felt bad for about an instant but my heart is still smiling over the entire experience. A neighbor lady came with that couple too that we also worked with and said because we came, God would do the rest. Now that’s affirmation for a great day for this reluctant missionary!
Friday, November 15, 2013 Today was the last full day at the Living Room. We will go in tomorrow for one last goodbye and get everything in order in the outpatient room. Today shaped up way different than we had planned. It was home visit day and we all were a bit apprehensive how the day would unfold. Jeff and Nat decided to let Geoffrey be the lead therapist, since this is his area of expertise. This was also going to be Joanne’s first home visit day. We really decided to put our trust in God and not our skills. We had seen God show up BIG all week and knew he would lead the way today if we let Him. We all loaded in the ambulance, the trusty Land Cruiser Hillside Church recently purchased for the Living Room. We had three in the front and four of us in the back. The plan was to make three stops…no big deal on paved roads but a HUGE deal on the Kenyan red muddy roads. I don’t even know if these pathways can really be called roads; more like earthen crevices with potholes that can swallow a Land Cruiser. Thank goodness for Nicolas, our expert driver who also is a killer great singer by the way. He is a miracle worker behind the wheel. At one time I thought we were going to roll over on our side but all in a day’s work for Nick. Everyone here rides motorbikes…most of the time three to a bike. They are probably easier to maneuver on the crazy roads. Our first stop was for Luca. He is a 15-year-old boy with MD…very sad diagnosis. He was sitting in an old wheelchair under a tree. Geoffrey took the lead and put him on a mat on the ground and stretched out his crooked little snarled legs. He then gave him some therapy putty to mold for hand therapy. While the serious work was going on, the rest of us handed out stickers and tootsie rolls to the neighbor kids. One little three year old ran away from us. Nicolas explained to Jeff that this was probably the first time he has seen a white person and he didn’t know what to think of us. The kids were all darling…toddlers to teenagers came running to look at the cool ambulance with the weird white people in it. Nat and Jeff were concerned with the backrest or lack of backrest on Luca’s chair. They are determined to come up with a scheme to fix it. I could have always given away another chair, but didn’t want to be black listed from mission work!
Second stop was Peris. She was assaulted and her back was injured. She can still walk but needs the aid of a walker…another piece of equipment that I would have liked to leave with her. The four PT’s worked with her and brainstormed strengthening exercises she could do at home. They worked with her outside and then lying on her bed. Her room was small and tidy with mud walls and dirt floors. All of her clothing hung on a line above her bed. While the real missionaries were working hard, this girl took pics of the village kids with my iphone. They loved seeing their images. Then they decided to sing me a song. I then shared a song from my itunes. They were dancing to “What Does the Fox Say” and Justin Bieiber….they got a kick out of the music coming out of my phone. Jeff and Nat taught them how to build a pyramid and we got a couple great pics.
Our last stop was Esther. We entered her home, again made of wood, mud and had dirt floors. There were wooden benches and a few chairs and she made sure we were comfortable. A mama hen and her little chicks made their way around the small yard and provided us entertainment. Esther told me she was once a businesswoman and just wanted to be normal again. We believe she had a mild stroke that left her weak on one side and her hand contracted. She told me that she believes God sent us cause she has been praying for healing for along time. Luckily Geoffrey had put splinting material in the car before we let and this was the perfect situation to put his newly honed talent to good use. The only thing we needed now was boiling water. Ether’s husband was quick to get a fire started outside over coals and kindling. The smoke coming up from the open flame while crafting her splint almost asphyxiated Sweet Natalie. This took a few tries to get a perfect fit but after a while Geoffrey and the team were satisfied. I told Jeff that I thought the makeshift splinting course in the kitchen hallway was rudimentary but this my friend, was REAL missionary medicine at work! After lunch, we heard singing (literally singing in the rain) coming from the patio. We assumed it was Friday afternoon devotionals but it was actually our going away party. Sweet words were shared and lots of singing. We all had to say a few parting remarks and each of us were then presented the customary African gifts…such a beautiful gesture. Sawe the gregarious director of the Living Room told a great story. He pointed to a large tree across the river. He said before that tree sprouted up, it first put down huge roots to support its size. He explained that it is like the Living room. It has deep roots but it is now sprouting up and growing and that is indeed true. These people are so special. They depend on the Lord, love him like crazy and are grateful for every little and and big thing that God provides. They are a loving, caring community who are truly the hands and feet of God. I am honored to have spent the week with them and know I’m a better person for it.