Dar es Salaam. Ninety-six days ago Sadia, Doreen and Wilson were lifted on stretchers to board a plane at Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) for treatment to the US. They are survivors of a horrific bus crash that occurred in Karatu, Arusha in May. Thirty-two pupils, two teachers and a driver were killed in the accident. But that remains history.
On their return yesterday, they appeared joyous and walked on their feet as they disembarked from the plane at KIA for a reception that was beamed live on a local TV station. That was after an 18-hour flight from Charlotte, US.
They flew back in the same aircraft that took them to the US along with their mothers, a doctor and a nurse. They have completed their treatment for a combined 17 serious fractures and underwent intensive rehabilitation.
On their return, they were accompanied by 13 people, including their parents, health workers all aboard the Samaritan Purse aircraft which touched down at KIA at 9:30 a.m.
They came along with medical equipment and supplies donated by World Medical Mission, the medical arm of Samaritan’s Purse.
The pieces of equipment include anaesthesia machines, infant incubators, operating tables and autoclaves.
Emotions ran high among the people who flocked the airport as Sadia, Doreen and Wilson joined hundreds of pupils of Lucky Vincent Primary School.
Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner Anna Mghwira spoke on behalf of Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan. She
thanked Samaritan Purse Charity, specifically the World Medical Mission, for donating medical equipment to the hospital that would help serve patients who require critical care.
Singida North MP Lazaro Nyalandu, who is also a co-chair of Siouxland Tanzania Education Ministries (Stemm) and a local coordinator of the travel arrangements, told journalists on Thursday that treatment and transport bills amounted to $800,000 (Sh1.7 billion).
Yet, it was not easy to get the aircraft to fly the children to the US. Details from Samaritan Purse show that Mr Steve King, from Iowa’s 4th congressional district—a good friend of Dr Steve Meyer, a co-founder of Stemm and an orthopaedic surgeon at Mercy Medical Centre—urgently contacted Franklin Graham. He then called Dr Meyer and offered his assistance, dispatching our DC-8 aircraft.
The trio sustained injuries when their bus plunged off a slick gravel road into a steep ravine. Fortunately, three missionaries serving with Stemm happened to be at the scene moments after the tragedy occurred.
They found that the three children had been helped, so they put them into ambulances, which rushed them to Mount Meru Hospital in Arusha.
But it became apparent to doctors and staff there that the children needed a level of care that their hospital could not provide, according to information provided on the website, Samaritan.org.
“The extent of their injuries, their age, and the limited resources and equipment at our hospital made it clear that the kids needed to go to the US to receive the best treatment,” recalled Dr Elias Mashala, a Tanzanian orthopaedic surgeon at Mount Meru Regional Referral Hospital, who accompanied the children to Sioux City.
Dr Steven Joyce, the paediatrician who helped take care of the survivors during their hospitalisation in Iowa, was quite direct about the vital role Samaritan’s Purse played in their survival.
“Without Samaritan’s Purse getting these kids halfway around the world to American medical care, they would not have gotten here, plain and simple,” Dr Joyce said, as quoted by Samaritan.org
“The cost of transporting them was simply too high to be able to get them here. I think Wilson would have survived in Tanzania, but Sadia and Doreen I don’t think would have,’’ she said.
Doreen, 12, was the most critically injured of the three, she was completely paralysed with the exception of one toe flickering.
“For her now to actually be walking around in her own power is unheard of with the type of fractures she had in her back,” noted Dr Meyer.
Following the accident, Doreen wondered if God had abandoned her. “But my mother told me that wasn’t true, but that God had done this for a purpose,” she said. “So, I thank God for everything. I always thank Him for everything.”
For Sadia, her rescue flight to the US made her dreaming about becoming a pilot like those who flew her on the plane and now back to her homeland.
“I was in bad pain after the accident, and they took me from Tanzania to America because they are kind and good people,” the 13-year-old said. “I want to help people the way they helped me,” she said.
Overwhelmed with joy, the 12-year-old Wilson could only say “Thank you to the Samaritan Purse, the US and Tanzanian governments for everything,” upon his return home. But few days before departing US he told samaritanspurse.org that, “Before I was feeling maybe 30 per cent, but now I’m feeling 100 per cent better…They were so polite and treated us well.”