Road traffic accidents are a major cause of death and disability around the world. Globally, at least 23-34 million people are left with permanent scars and many others die. In Kenya, over 3000 people die through road accidents every year, most of them between the ages of 15 and 44 years while more than twice as many are permanently incapacitated by their injuries. Ibrahim Taracisio, a road accident survivor, shares with WANGARI MWANGI how he is coping with the aftermath of a grisly road accident.

It is said that journalism takes you places. This time, it took me to Kitini in Machackos County for a story that turned out to be one of resilience, hope and faith from a man who has refused to be put down by circumstances. After a 15 km motorbike ride from the main road, I am ushered into Ibrahim’s Kiratina-ini home by his wife, Muthoni, where I find him comfortably seated on an armchair. One cannot easily tell that it took effort and support from his wife to get him to that seat. It took me five minutes to notice his motionless legs; he is paralysed from the waist down.

When Ibrahim mentioned that he has had three phases, I could not understand what he was driving at. He says that in his first phase, he was young, energetic and strong enough to provide for his family, and all his plans and dreams were falling into place. His second phase carries his darkest moment and he experienced it at the prime of his career. The accident marked the beginning of his lowest moment in his life.

That day in September

Despite being over 65 years of age, Ibrahim remembers the events of September 1, 1996 like they happened yesterday. He had resumed work after his annual leave at the Pentecostal Evangelism Fellowship of Africa where he worked as the acting church overseer. As was custom, he attended the Sunday church service at the church in Kaharati, Murang’a County. “The church overseer was unwell and I wanted to visit him at his Nyagatugu home in Maragua. I convinced one of the church members to accompany me since he had a car. I also invited three other friends to keep us company,” he recalls.

The five men boarded the white pick-up and fuelled it upon reaching Murang’a town before heading to Maragua. Ibrahim describes the terrain as very hilly and one that has winding bends. “As we were driving up towards Nyagatugu, the driver warned us that he was finding it difficult to drive up the steep hill,” says Ibrahim adding that the car breaks failed and the car started to reverse.

The driver tried to steer the car without success. Ibrahim says that he attempted to open the passenger’s door so that he could jump out but it was too late as the pick-up had already hit the barriers on the roadside and was now rolling down the valley. “The two men seated at the back were the first to be thrown out. The three of us in the driver’s cabin rolled down the valley not sure of our survival,” he says.

The car rolled several times before landing on a murram road where they were ushered by screams from curious on lookers that had gathered. All this time, his eyes remained closed due to the pain he was experiencing from his chest down. Ibrahim and his three friends were carried to the main road by good Samaritans and were lucky to get assistance to ferry them to Murang’a District Hospital for treatment.

An X-ray revealed that Ibrahim had sustained cervical spinal cord injury that affected his C1 – C8 vertebrae. This is the most severe level of spinal cord injury and causes paralysis in arms, hands, and legs. This area of the spinal cord controls signals to the back of the head, neck and shoulders, arms and hands, and diaphragm. Sometimes, this type of injury is accompanied by loss of physical sensation, respiratory issues, bowel, bladder, and sexual dysfunction.

He spent one night in Murang’a District Hospital then was transferred to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) for specialised treatment. “Most of my body from the neck downwards was swollen and I had lost sensation. The doctors at Murang’a District Hospital said they could not help me beyond easing my pain. They were kind enough to explain that my stay there would only make my situation more complicated,” narrates Ibrahim.

His stay at KNH lasted a few hours as his family transferred him to Masaba Hospital with the hope that his condition would improve, only to be sent back to KNH because of the severity of his injuries. At the private wing of KNH, he was assigned to a personal physician to constantly check on his progress which included taking scans and X-rays.

“At first there were doubts about my recovery due to my advanced age. I was in my late forties. During the check-ups the doctor would prick my limbs with needles to check for sensation. By my third month, I could sit up but they only allowed me to do so for a few minutes daily to avoid causing more harm to my backbone. The fact that I could sit up was a clear sign of hope that I was on the road to recovery,” he says.

With a little of physiotherapy sessions, his doctor confirmed that he would be able to use his hands again but was also quick to inform him that the damages on his limbs could not be upturned. For Ibrahim, finding out that he would never walk again marked another low moment in his life but instead of wallowing in self-pity, he vowed to fight his way out of the hospital bed.

He was discharged from hospital in a wheel chair five months after he had checked in lying flat on his bed. His medical bill stood at a staggering Ksh 300,000. His employer, church and friends did not allow him to worry about it as they organised a fundraiser to the pay the bills.

“One of our family friends who worked as a nurse at KNH channelled her income towards the clearance of my medical bill. I can only appreciate her sacrifice,” says Ibrahim.

Starting from scratch

By the time of his discharge from KNH in January 1997, Ibrahim was a different man. The doctors psychologically prepared his wife and children to a different Ibrahim who would require undivided attention and patience as he recovered from home.

“I was like a newborn baby in the family. I depended on my wife to feed me, bathe me, dress me, and turn me in bed to avoid bedsores, and to place me on the wheelchair. I still did not have sensation in my hands and legs and was not able to control my bowel movement, hence was wearing diapers,” he says.

He has lots of praise for his wife who patiently re-trained him to do most of the activities of daily living such as eating, dressing and bathing. When he eventually regained sensation in his hands and chest, his wife trained him to get in and out of bed and also onto the wheel chair without assistance. Part of his psychological healing from the shock of the sudden paralysis came from constant words of encouragement from his friends.

“We still host friends and old colleagues who visit us bearing messages of hope and encouragement for me. Knowing that I still have people who think about me 19 years after the road accident means a lot to me,” he says.

Fulfilling his dreams through his children

Four of his children were still in school when the accident happened and depended on his salary to cater for their education. His wife did odd jobs and had to abandon them in order to take care of him. Ibrahim says he feels proud of his older children who took it upon themselves to educate their siblings.

“It was not just educating their siblings, they have made my dreams their responsibility to fulfil. For instance, one of my sons plastered the house out of his own volition and went ahead to build a ramp for my wheelchair. I just share my dreams and visions with them and before I know it, one of them transforms it to reality,” says Ibrahim proudly.

As we conclude the interview, Ibrahim points out that he is at the third phase of his life – that of loving and accepting himself. “I have learnt to accept the fact that I will never walk again but that does not stop me from making attempts at walking. For anyone who is undergoing a hard situation in life, acceptance is the first step to recovery. Accept and love yourself!” he explains as we wind up the interview.

Published in January 2015.