In May 2000 I was working as a family physician in Nyangachor, a remote village in Sudan (now South Sudan). We had set up the first modern medical services among the eastern Toposa nomadic indigenous people.
A very sick little boy, Adimo, was brought to our clinic by his mother. She had taken him to traditional healers, but he kept getting thinner and thinner. Narus, the last town they had visited, was being bombed by the Sudanese Army’s Antonov plane, which was sent to terrorize people.
They were afraid and had heard that there was a clinic deep inside their home area. So, in desperation, they walked 120 miles to Nyangachor—an incredible feat, given Adimo’s condition.
They didn’t know Adimo’s age. He was about 9 years old, but he was extremely thin and only weighed 20 pounds—the weight of a 1-year-old child. Kala-azar, a potentially fatal disease transmitted by the bite of sandflies infected with leishmania, was killing him.
Boys like Adimo would tend their families’ livestock. These little child shepherds would sit in the shade of anthills while watching the animals. Sandflies would come out of the anthill, bite the children and pass on a little worm that would cause them to waste away. They would die if they didn’t get treatment.
I was sure Adimo would die too, but I was wrong. We began to treat him with a painful daily injection in his tiny little muscles, and over the course of the next month, he improved and lived.
He didn’t have any clothes, but I gave him a Kenyan kikoi (sarong) to wear. Later, when he went to school, the Sisters helped him to get other clothes.
I still clearly remember the day when Father Tim came to me to tell me that Adimo had come to the door of the compound where we lived. Adimo had become much stronger and was able to walk from the little hut where we were treating him. When Father Tim asked him what he wanted, Adimo replied, “I want to go to school.”
We were so happy that he wanted to learn, and he became one of the brightest students in his class.
For seven years, Adimo stayed near our compound in Nyangachor because his mother had gone to their home three days away to care for her family. He attended the school run there by Maryknoll Sister Mary Ellen Manz. Our Catholic community there also included Maryknoll Sisters Joan Sauvigne and Marilyn Norris, St. Patrick Fathers Tim Galvin and Sean Cremin, and fellow Maryknoll lay missioner Marty Roers; together we helped take care of Adimo.
I left Sudan in 2003 to work in Kitale, Kenya.
Last fall, Adimo found my email address and wrote to me. He now weighs 140 pounds and wanted to say thank you. “What I remember,” he wrote, “is that you were my closest friend. I want to thank you so very much for the care during my sickness of kala-azar in Nyangachor. … You are part of the reason why I am alive this day—along with the prayers and the help from our heavenly God.”
Adimo gave me permission to share his story.
He previously had sent a thank-you email to Maryknoll magazine, in which he wrote:
The first day I was surprised to see a white lady for the first time; that was Dr. Susan Nagele, who treated me for one and a half months and became my friend.
My treatment was successful and Dr. Susan advised my mum to let me join the nearby Good Shepherd primary school. School was a new environment for me. Later that year, Sister Mary Ellen Manz became our new teacher. I remember when she used to bring her piano in class and teach us how to sing do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do in the music lesson. Dr. Susan was responsible for my school needs.
Sister Joan Sauvigne and Sister Marilyn Norris took care of the sick at the clinic. I had a friend named Marty Roers who liked planting trees. So we used to plant trees with him and some of the other students. Marty used to give us petty cash for our services.
The year 2003 was not a good one for me because Dr. Susan and Marty left Sudan. Sister Joan, who cared for six orphaned and poor children, took responsibility for me until 2007 when I finished my primary level.
I thank all the Maryknoll community for the work, mercy and commitment they showed to our people during their time here in Sudan.
Adimo Elijah Lobukui