Benjamin Benjamin had lived the better part of his life as a carpenter in the city of Soroti in the vibrant land of Teso, Eastern Uganda. This one job has taken care of his family and helped him start a music career where he goes by the stage name, ‘Lion Boy’. He didn’t have much but life was good. His wife gave him beautiful children, a boy and a girl.
But in 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19-induced lockdown, Benjamin’s life took an unprecedented twist. One evening, when he was seated in his compound, a group of thugs descended on him. The beating and the injuries he sustained crippled his leg. He was repeatedly beaten in the left leg that it developed contracture, a medical condition when a joint becomes fixed in a bent or straightened position due to shortened or tightened muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Benjamin’s leg was bent.
“At that time, I think all of my life was gone. I felt like everything was over,” Benjamin recalls. Because of this, he was crippled and needed support if he were to be able to move around. Instead of pitying himself, the 36-year-old decided that life must continue. He then made some crutches for himself from wood. His business slowed down a bit but he continued making furniture.
Benjamin’s hope of regaining his leg function dwindled as the days went by. At some point, his wife decided that it was too much for her and decided to leave. Her two children remained behind with Benjamin’s wife.
Three years later, in September 2023, Lacor Hospital announced that a group of reconstructive surgeons from the UK would be coming to Lacor and several conditions, including those like Benjamin’s, would be treated. As usual, the news went fast, traversing the airwaves and reaching the ears of Benjamin. Lacor is known for its high volume of patients and Benjamin knew what needed to be done – come to Lacor as soon as possible.
At the hospital, they met the team from Bristol City, UK led by Dr Orlando Antonio, a consultant plastic surgeon who is leading his team for the first time to Lacor on a two-week medical mission. Dr Orlando had just formed a charity organisation called Project Cyrenaeus registered in the UK with the main purpose of bringing teams of specialist clinicians to Africa in hospitals where plastic surgery is not available. Dr Orlando had been to Lacor earlier in June and established the need for reconstructive surgery.
Benjamin, along with several hundreds was screened by the team. Because of the huge turnup, the doctors had to prioritise the cases, selecting only 40 for the surgery. The team could only manage as high as four per day, given the complexities around these surgeries. Fortunately for Benjamin, he was chosen to undergo the operation.
We caught up with him a day after the surgery and he said; “I’m really very grateful and there are no words to express how happy I am. I thank God so much and I thank the organisers of this camp.” Benjamin’s leg can now stretch all the way and he can move it freely. He needs a little time for the wounds to heal before he can start walking with both legs again.
He told us that he doesn’t intend to remarry so soon as he intends to take his time in choosing the right partner. “I’m still young and I should marry, but this time I have to be very careful when I choose a woman for myself because marriage is not a one-day thing – it’s a life thing,” he said. Apart from Benjamin, the majority of the beneficiaries were women and children, mostly with contractures resulting from burns.
For Dr Orlando and his team of five, the camp has been a huge success. “It’s been a fantastic experience. We’ve been impressed by the level of care and professionalism in the hospital,” he said, adding that they chose Lacor for their first mission because of its level of organisation and the infrastructure. He also said that they had the opportunity to perform emergency procedures.
Cyrenaeus also aim to establish long-term sustainable collaboration with hosting institutions to provide training to local doctors and nurses in essential basic plastic reconstructive surgery to provide care for patients with burns, hand trauma, soft tissue complex wounds, skin cancer, sarcoma and congenital malformations. This was evident when they tagged along four members of staff from the hospital, consulting and training them.
“It’s been a perfect blend-in. We shared expertise in operating patients, teaching sessions, embracing newer technologies plus learning how we can integrate some of their observations in our daily practice. All I can say is that it’s been a remarkable two weeks of flawless surgery,” said Dr Nyeko David Okia who has been a part of the surgical team.
Wounds can heal, but they always leave a scar. What Dr Orlando and his team are doing is to heal the scars, both physical and psychological. “We hope to come back to Lacor a million times,” he said.