Living Story


A letter from Joe Mamlin-December 2005, Kenya Salina

(Photo: Salina in her new wheelchair with AMPATH outreach worker, Rose Birgen)

I first saw Salina almost three years ago. She was five months pregnant and had just developed paralysis of the right side of her body. Testing revealed that she was HIV positive and severely immunosuppressed. Pregnancy management was a struggle but she did safely deliver a beautiful baby. Two months later, Salina was brought in to see me. She had developed a new stroke resulting in paralysis of the left side of her body. Salina could no longer use either arms or legs. Swallowing was difficult and speech impossible. Add to this tragedy the positive HIV test in the baby. Efforts at interruption of mother to child transmission had failed. Caring for Salina and her baby would be a challenge in any medical center in the world. We took on that challenge amid the poverty of rural Kenya.

This is not a story of sadness. It is a story of joy. Each month when she returns for care, the battle begins to see which one of us will have the privilege of caring for her. Her bright eyes and glowing smile lift the spirits of all around her. Her body may be trapped (in a wheelchair), but Salina's spirit can never be trapped. Her immune system has rebounded thanks to modern antiretroviral drugs; her child is almost three years old and is doing beautifully.

We watched Salina's family struggle with every aspect of caring for her. Everything was tough---getting her in and out of bed, trying to feed her and even finding some way each month to travel to our clinic. We all felt that we must find a way to do more for this remarkable woman and supportive family. It was about then, that the deans and leaders of the Indiana University School of Medicine decided to sit over a tub of water and sell chances to subordinates to throw balls at a target that could "dunk the dean". All of the proceeds were to go to the IU-Kenya Partnership in support of humanitarian relief for those in greatest need. With this fund, we were able to fully equip Salina's home with patient lifts capable of transferring her from bed, special bathroom facilities, exercise equipment and best of all, her very own wheelchair.