Africanboy ready to go home

Published on Thu, Apr 22, 2004
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African boy ready to go home

by Jack Kintner

Six-year-old J.R. Anamange is growing up in poverty more extreme than most Americans ever see. But he has a healthier outlook on life now thanks to the generosity of several area nurses and physicians and a surgery center in Bellingham, all of who donated their time, skills and facilities.

In an effort coordinated by Blaine physician Marta Kazymyra, Bellingham surgeon George Wreggit surgically corrected Anamange’s two abdominal hernias the day after Easter. After an initial few days’ discomfort, Anamange is doing fine, and will be going home a week from next Monday.

That will take some time, however, since home is over 9,000 miles away in Nakuru, Kenya. “That takes about 30 to 36 hours, depending,” says his American “mom,” Debra Akre, a volunteer educator with the Christian-based organization Childcare International, headquartered in Bellingham. Akre went to Kenya three months ago as a volunteer to help the organization set up a college-level school of business administration.

Akre and her husband, Dean had previously applied to become $30 a month sponsors for a child in the organization’s world-wide system. Around the same time Anamange’s grandmother brought him into Childcare’s facility in Nakuru for sponsorship, since Anamange’s mother is bedridden with AIDS and unable to support him.

The charity, Childcare matched him with the Akres, and when Dean joined his wife in the field in February, all three did some traveling and got to know each other. “I noticed then that something was wrong,” Debra Akre said, “because J.R. had an obvious (protruding) umbilical hernia. Occasionally, he would be doubled over with pain, though unless he was going in swimming or something most people wouldn’t have seen or suspected a thing.”

On examination, Anamange turned out to have two hernias, and though good medical care is available in Kenya the system is swamped and could take years to respond to his problem. So Akre called her own doctor to ask about doing something for him back in the U.S.

“I wouldn’t make a move like this without talking to Dr. K. first,” said Akre, a patient of Kazymyra’s for many years. When she did, Kazymyra swung into action, made phone calls and to her surprise found other doctors, nurses and a suitable facility, the Pacific Rim Outpatient Surgery Center, all not only willing but eager to help.
Wreggit, of the Parkway Surgical and Hernia Center in Bellingham, waived his fees, as did anesthesiologist Kenneth Kloehn. Pathologist M. Omar Shokeir covered the lab work and Pacific Rim provided an operating room and nursing staff, complete with the little red wagon they use as a gurney for younger patients.

Kazymyra estimated the value of the waived medical costs at about $6,000. Beyond that, the Akre’s efforts included two round trips from Kenya to Bellingham at roughly $1,200 each for the Akres. Fortunately, Childcare International had the flexibility to allow for this unplanned but necessary additional effort even though the month it’s taken came in the middle of Akre’s six-month volunteer term.

“The only real snag we hit in the whole thing,” Akre said, “came from Americans, consular staff at the American embassy in Nairobi. They were just awful to us, extremely rude, at one point literally throwing my passport in my face.”

Despite his youth Amanage speaks English well enough to teach others a few words in Kiswahili, the east African lingua franca. “English is the legal language of Kenya,” Akre explained, “and everyone learns it in school and uses it in business, though Swahili, or what they call Kiswahili, is used informally.” A country famous for long distance runners – Kenyans Timothy Cherigat and Catherine Ndereba just won the 108th Boston Marathon, a race Kenyans have won 13 out of the last 14 years – Kenya is about the size of Washington and Montana combined, and has had a relatively stable and more-or-less democratic form of government since the 1960s.
It’s the country where Austrian wildlife painter Joy Adamson wrote Born Free to call attention to ways in which African wildlife was threatened, and where she was murdered in 1980. Anamange’s home town, Nakuru, is the capital of the Great Rift Valley area, and is not far from the highest two peaks in Africa, Mt. Kenya (17,058 feet) and, in neighboring Tanzania, Kilimanjaro (19,335 feet).

Akre said Africa is beautiful but that the people have some deep-seated problems that require someone willing to be there for the long haul. “Dr. Max Lange has been working there for something like 50 years,” she said. Lange founded Childcare International in 1981, moving it to Bellingham from California six years later. The Akre’s sponsorship is something they intend to continue “until J.R. finishes college,” hopefully somewhere in the U.S.

“That’s mom,” said the Akre’s son Adam, who lives in Blaine with his wife Kimberley and new son Tobin. “A friend of hers read that they were looking for people to help set up this college and let her know. She’s always been involved, donating her time.”

J.R. heads for home May 3 with “hakuna matata,” Kiswahili for “no worries, no problems.”