A medical emergency can be stressful for anyone, even a health care worker. But imagine finding yourself in Africa with a husband in the hospital and not knowing anyone on the entire continent.
That was the situation for UAB Medicine Infection Preventionist Peggy Gibson. Her husband, Donald Gibson, left for a mission trip with a church group from Gadsden, Ala., setting out on June 17, 2022, for Arusha, Tanzania. By the end of the first night, Donald was experiencing confusion and began talking out of his head, leading his travel companions to take him to the local emergency room. After several days, a physician on the trip decided that Donald needed more care than the hospital in Tanzania could provide.
Thus began a four-hour ambulance ride to Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. The other members of the team needed to return to the United States, so Peggy made the 20-plus-hour trip to Nairobi to be with her husband, over 8,000 miles away.
“It takes time to get there, and the member of the team who had been with Donald the entire journey wanted to make sure I had time to get acclimated before he left to come home,” Peggy recalls. “When I was packing up, I was apprehensive about going to another country.”
Upon arriving, Peggy faced a series of challenges, prompting her to reach out to co-workers at Cooper Green, including Administrator Laura Hurst. “My impression was that she was at her wits’ end and didn’t know what to do,” Hurst says. “She texted me to see if I had any contacts over there, because she was willing to take all the help she could get.”
Hurst began gathering names of contacts and reached out to Enos Ngetich, a nurse practitioner at Cooper Green and native of Kenya. “I don’t even know how Laura remembered that I was from Kenya, that is my original home, but somehow she remembered that,” Ngetich says. “She told me Peggy’s story and all that she was going through, and she asked if I knew anyone who could help her.”
Fortunately, Ngetich’s brother David is a senior police officer in Kenya, and when he got word of the situation, he rushed to the aid of Peggy and Donald. The day he reached out was the same day that Donald was moved from the intensive care unit to a private room. Having someone there to help her navigate a foreign hospital was a huge relief for Peggy. The Kenyan police force is known as “Utumishi Kwa Wote”, which means “service for all.”
“This was a godsend for David to show up,” Peggy says. “He had a bright smile on his face, everyone at the hospital recognized him, and it was comforting having someone who could speak the language and help facilitate everything that was going on.”
A Strong Bond
Donald was discharged to a local hotel on July 3, but the couple had to wait six days on travel arrangements before they could fly home to Gadsden. Back in the United States, as Donald’s condition continued to improve, Peggy reflected on the strong bond she formed with Enos Ngetich during her husband’s time of need.
“I went from just talking to Enos from time to time about different issues on his unit to now considering him and his brother lifelong friends,” Peggy says. “I don’t know how I could’ve gotten everything accomplished over there, but his brother was there at a critical point when I didn’t feel like I had much hope.”
Ngetich says he’s glad that he and his brother could help. “Not in a thousand years would I think I’d find myself in a position to help a co-worker like this,” he says. “Here I am just doing my job, taking care of my patients, and suddenly my help was needed immediately. It was a blessing that somehow things worked out like this.”
Hurst says she isn’t surprised by Ngetich’s quick response. “Cooper Green is full of people who just want to help, and if they’re given the opportunity, they’re going to jump on it,” she says. “It’s part of the culture here – we attract people who want to help.”