9-1-1 Kikongo

Missionary Physician Assistant Katherine Niles, with American Baptist International Ministries, serves as the coordinator for the Baptist health/medical work in western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—14 hospitals and 5 health zones, which carry out Jesus’s ministry of health and healing. Katherine kindly agreed to share her story with us about how God answered her 9-1-1 call for an MAF medical evacuation.

 

“9-1-1” doesn’t exist in Congo, even if you have a cell phone and “bars.” Outside the phone network, there’s no EMS (emergency medical system) at all. Or is there?

About a month ago, my phone rang at 9 pm. Late evening phone calls are suspicious. “Hello Mama”; said an urgent voice, “This is the administrator (AG) at Kikongo hospital.” How in the world?  Kikongo has no cellphone access, I thought to myself.

“Mama, it’s very important! We have an emergency. Dr. Lay had a motorcycle accident. He needs help urgently. Please send an MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) plane tomorrow morning to bring him to Kinshasa.”

“AG, how are you calling?!” I asked incredulously. “Anyway, MAF has a busy schedule. At times there isn’t a plane or pilot to call on!” The administrator hastened with the story: returning from a long trip at night, by motorcycle, in the driving rain, Dr. Lay pushed his luck and hit a tree stump. The bike flipped and Dr. Lay flew some distance landing onto his left shoulder. Even without an x-ray at Kikongo, it was obvious the injury was a badly fractured clavicle, but they couldn’t determine what other trauma he had sustained. These days, the work at the Kikongo hospital hangs on the leadership of Dr. Lay.

Dr. Lay at the Kikongo hospital, still recovering from his motorcycle accident. Photo by Garth Pederson.

“Ok Lord,” I said in my heart, “9-1-1!” Already late, which of the MAF pilots would I call? How would the Kikongo team manage their trauma patient overnight (or longer)?!

I tried one pilot’s number. He answered! The 5-seater ‘206’ had nothing scheduled. Weather permitting, a pilot could be at Kikongo by 8 am.

The administrator called again in the morning, from a special “hot spot” three miles from Kikongo, where cell phones work. He confirmed Dr. Lay survived the night and was able to fly. I confirmed that MAF was on the way. I learned Dr. Lay wished to go to the St. Joseph hospital because he knew several doctors there.

How to inform that hospital? I scrolled through my phone directory. “Ok Lord, 9-1-1, I have no contacts at St. Joseph.” Or do I? I stumbled on a “Dr. Paulin” whom I remember registering on a whim when a team of St. Joseph specialists visited the Vanga Hospital some months ago. No answer. He’s an obstetrician, but, as my only contact, I chanced sending a text message.

Also, how would Dr. Lay get to the hospital? “9-1-1 again, Lord.” I’d have to cross that bridge once Dr. Lay arrived, and could reach him by phone.

Not 5 minutes later, my phone rang. It was Dr. Paulin. He was the perfect contact. Long-time friends, he and Dr. Lay were classmates in nursing school (at Vanga!), and later they attended medical school together! “We’ll set everything up,” he assured me, “I’ll call ortho, stat.”

I knew MAF should have landed in Kinshasa by now so I called Dr. Lay’s number. No go. Impulsively, I called the forever-helpful Congolese manager at the MAF hanger. He answered, and informed me that he personally was already driving Dr. Lay to the hospital in the MAF van. Incredible! Across 300 miles of airspace and otherwise untenable Congo roads, and beyond cell phone network, less than 16 hours after the accident, Dr. Lay was admitted to the St. Joseph hospital to a team who awaited his arrival. God’s 9-1-1!

The responsible thing would be that servants like Dr. Lay and his team have health insurance. But Congo’s population is so poor and legal systems so corrupt, no health insurance company could survive here. Dr. Lay serves sacrificially at Kikongo for a salary of $200 a month. There’s no way he could afford the cost of the charter flight and three weeks of high quality care at St Joseph. Thankfully, God is his ‘insurance’! God provided: a pilot, a mission plane, and your gifts and prayers. We are happy to report Dr. Lay has been back at Kikongo some weeks now and even somehow providing emergency surgery with one hand still in a sling! Thank you, God, for providing for MAF; and for you, who enable us to be God’s hands and feet in ministry here.

Katherine Niles and her alternative-to-MAF method of transportation. Photo courtesy of Katherine Niles.

 

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