Legs of hope: Artificial limbs give South Sudan amputees hope to walk, again
In one of the wards at Juba Military Referral Hospital, two Indian prosthetists – a healthcare professional who makes and fits artificial limbs (prostheses) for people with disabilities – are busy assembling prostheses for the large war veterans who got injured during liberation struggles.
Outside, under the shades of the trees within the hospital compound are tens of amputees. Each with their own story of how they lost their limbs, and what the loss meant for their daily lives. But fate had, all the same, smiled on them, and here they are at the artificial limbs fitness camp courtesy of the Government of India in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs of the Republic of South Sudan.
38-year-old Juma Abyet Deng is among non-war veterans who have an appointment with prosthetists today. He has already been examined when I meet him, and all-important measures are taken.
He was bitten by a poisonous snake in 2013, something that at first he never thought would graduate into a life-long disability.
“I imagined that the wound was going to heal somehow, and I would get back on my feet once again,” he says when we settle down for the interview.
Little did he know that his doctor was waiting with a bombshell that would change his life forever. The snake poison had brought serious medical complications to his leg that it had to be amputated at the knee.
“There was no room for argument. The doctor was very clear that amputation was the best way to have my life saved,” he says.
But his life and that of his family would never be the same again after the procedure was carried out. He had nightmares. Even in sleep, he could not come to terms with the fact that part of him was already removed and the process was irreversible.
Getting to his feet
Deng couldn’t imagine how his family would do without him fending for them, especially as the economy slumped as the civil war in 2013 raged.
There followed a period of suffering, but thank God his wounds healed. Though confined to a wheelchair, Deng would join South Sudan Wheelchair Basketball Association as a player.
Until recently, Deng had only used crutches and wheelchairs for mobility and sports. He had never gotten access to artificial limbs but last month he acquired one, thanks to the Indian embassy in Juba which donated hundreds of artificial limbs and other assisted devices to those in Juba Military Hospital also known as Al Giada.
Juma said the device has helped improve his mobility and even found a job in construction works recently.
“I am doing a lot of work now I even work at the construction site and buildings to feed my children,” he says with a grin. He is calling on the government to help amputees with funds to start small-scale businesses and provide for their families.
Unlike Juma who lost his leg due to a poisonous snake bite, Joseph Achien Gong suffered his debility injury on the battlefield.
When war broke out in Juba in 2013, it did not take long before it spread to other parts of the country. And in 2015, Joseph, a serviceman, found himself fighting on one of the frontlines in Nasir.
It was in that war-ravaged town that he was shot in the leg, badly damaging his bones and veins as later said by his doctors. However, the father of two said he was lucky to have survived saying most of his colleagues died due to gun wounds.
“I was severely injured during this war, all the bones and veins in my leg were damaged to the point that I almost died immediately but God helped me,” Joseph said of his situation after getting shot.
“Many died but I survived and I thank God for my life,” he added.
It’s been years now since Joseph, now 34, was injured and life hasn’t been any easier. He has undergone treatment and several procedures but the healing process has not been quick and found himself confined to his bed most of the time and rendered needy.
“I have since been confined to staying at home and waiting for my salary, yet years before the unfortunate incident at the battlefront, I would engage in crop farming. But this has since become impossible,” he says.
He is, however, counting on his recently acquired crutches and artificial to aid him to move about and hopefully with time, find something to do to earn a living.
Another amputee Zechariah Bol Kuol acquired his wounds in the combat just like Joseph but rather way back during the liberation struggle.
Zachariah said in 1989, he was shot in the jungles of Eastern Equatoria as he and hundreds of other fellow SPLA guerrilla fighters were engaged in fierce fighting with Sudanese troops near Kapoeta town.
“We were returning in large numbers from the Ethiopian border unfortunately we were attacked in an area known as Kapoeta 1 in Eastern Equatoria State,” he said.
“I was shot in the leg during that fighting war. I was shot,” he said.
Zechariah stated that today’s injury occurred some way back when he was in the early twentieth, however, it was not cut due to the belief that the health situation was still good.
“I was shot at the early age at the age of around 20 years and my leg was not cut immediately but the situation continues to worsen as time goes,” he said while pointing at his injured leg.
Although life continue to be normal, he was usually covered by several worries about losing his leg as the situation remain unchanged from the day, he acquired the wound during the ambush.
“It has spent some years with me and I am leaving with it with a lot of worries” he added.
That injury changed his life forever as he would spend the next years of his life in and out of the hospital seeking medication after the wound reopened time after again. Joseph said the injuries never healed completely due to possible bacterial infection as he only arrived at the nearest health facility in Lokichogio several days later.
Thirty-three years later, Zachariah now in his mid 40s, still struggles with the injury and has spent the last four years undergoing medication at Juba Military Hospital, Giada. This, he said, forced the doctors to finally amputate his leg as it was the only way to save his life.
“In 2018 the doctors told me that amputation was the only option left and I had to consent to the procedure since they are the professionals,” he said.
He was given a pair of crutches to help him with mobility.
“I am very happy to the Indians who gave me the leg fitment I can now walk like a normal man though there are some pains, it has improved as per now I can move,” he said.
As a committed soldier, Kuol continue to serve as a member of wounded heroes. “Although I was wounded, I am still a soldier,” he says.