Dan, Heather, Jeremiah, Emma, Claire, Levi, Josie and baby Jane

Dan, Heather, Jeremiah, Emma, Claire, Levi, Josie and baby Jane

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Home Bittersweet Home

With dear friends and orthopaedic colleagues, Dr. Kiprono and Dr. Dylan..."welcome home/return again" cakes in Kiswahili. 

Saying goodbye to good friends.

Our home at Tenwek which we newly remodeled.   We are thankful that our friends, Will and Alisa Copeland (neurosurgery) will be living in it for the next two years. 

The heaviest item - an old piano which was given to us when we packed our container in 2013.

The core crew gathering strength for the move...sausages, chapati, samosas and chai...breakfast of champions. 

Moving in Africa was quite the experience...despite the potholes and last 8 km of bumpy dirt roads, only one item broke during the process...a single coffee mug! Check out the video Dean Cowles made of the move!

Kijabe means "place of the wind."  

Not only is it windy, but cold here as well.  Josie and Jane both wear double sleepers at night. 

Kingfisher, the apartment at Kijabe. We now know why God placed us here originally...so we would have a place of stability for our little girls during the chaos of packing and unpacking.  

We also placed Claire and Levi temporarily in the dorms at RVA while we made this transition. 

Sand Grouse, our new house at Kijabe.  6 bedrooms and fully adequate for our family (and visitors!).

The view of the Great Rift Valley from our living room. 

The quad which we imported in our container in 2013 has been HUGELY useful here at Kijabe. 

Last week, our family moved from Tenwek to Kijabe, (our 21st move since Heather and I were married in 1995).  By far, this was our most challenging, not just because of the logistics of planning and executing a household move in Africa, but because we said goodbye to the place we poured our hearts and lives into the past 7+ years since first arriving in 2008.  And the tears flowed freely last week, as God allowed us to feel deeply the grief of loss as we said goodbye to our dear fellow missionary and Kenyan friends, and the place our kids called “home.” 

At the same time, we sensed God’s mighty hand of sovereign direction, despite moments of severe doubt, wondering if we had made the right decision for our family.   When we first arrived at Kijabe, the apartment to which we were assigned (called Kingfisher) had black mold growing on the ceiling tiles, and within a few minutes of being inside, Claire, Levi and I all experienced significant allergic reactions.  We knew that we were not going to be able stay long term in this house, so we asked Kijabe if anything else was available.  As housing is in short demand at both Tenwek and Kijabe, they confirmed that Kingfisher was it. 

The following day, while visiting the Smith family (with whom Claire lived while she was at RVA for her 8th grade year), we met the Smith kids’ grandparents, Mike and Rose Matlak who were visiting from the states.  Dr. Mike is a pediatric surgeon who has worked at Kijabe several times over the years, and was instrumental in starting the peds surgery program here.  Ironically (sovereignly), 20 years ago, while Heather and I were living at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, when Jeremiah was just a baby, we had Mike and Rose over for dinner (long story), and Mike was very instrumental in convincing me to pursue a career in medicine.

After sharing with Rose about our situation with housing, she mentioned that she knew of a house at the nearby Moffat Bible College that might be available to rent.  “It’s very near the Smith’s house, and has 6 bedrooms,” she said.  “It would be just perfect for your family.”  Excitedly, I contacted the housing administrator from Moffat, but she informed me that it would not likely be available, as another missionary family (also friends of ours) were currently renting the house (called Sand Grouse) for a few weeks while getting their three children in boarding school at RVA.  Steve and Sharon were preparing to return to their place of ministry in Central African Republic and were debating whether to continue renting the house into the future, as a ‘home base’ for their family and for other team members with them in CAR.

About a week later, while attending new student/parent orientation at RVA, we saw the Steve and Sharon, and they informed Heather and I that they had decided not to rent the house, and later that day, the Moffat housing administrator called to let us know that the house was ours until July, 2017.  However, because the house was completely unfurnished, we would need to move our entire household from Tenwek, a task that seemed completely impossible to us, especially with two little girls at home who require full-time attention.   But with the help of faithful Kenyan friends and missionary colleagues who sacrificed time and effort to help in the process, it couldn’t have gone more smoothly. 

So now, Heather and I are in the process of setting up our 21st home.  While we are excited to see what God has in store for us as a family here at Kijabe, we also carry with us a feeling of sorrow, and more deeply, a longing for our unchangeable, eternal home, which awaits us in heaven.  We are convinced that this paradoxical bitter-sweetness is part of following Christ.  God never promised any of us that a life of faith would be without pain.  But, there is a reward that awaits us now, and in the end, as we continue in faith - that reward being Jesus Christ himself, our Greatest Treasure, our constant Companion and Friend, our Savior and God, our only Hope.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Returning to Kenya: An Important Update from the Galats

God has faithfully carried us through this challenging past year of home ministry assignment (HMA) in the states, and we are now immersed in our preparations to return to Kenya on August 15th!  We are excited about our return and wanted to update you on some new directions in which God is leading our family.   The past few years, we have become increasingly aware that our children have some critical educational needs that have been challenging for us to meet in this life of missions.  As you know, since first arriving in Africa in 2008, our family has been serving at Tenwek Hospital (on the west side of the Great Rift Valley).   When our kids were young, homeschooling (supplemented by the Tenwek co-op) was the best (although not always easy) option.  But as they grew, and entered middle school and high school, we saw a growing complexity in terms of their educational, social, spiritual and relational needs.  The only real option for a secondary classroom education while serving at Tenwek is to send our kids to the Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school about 3-1/2 hours drive from Tenwek (on the east side of the Great Rift Valley).  Jeremiah graduated from RVA in 2015, and Claire and Emma have both sent time there as well.  While most families at Tenwek have done well with sending their kids to RVA, it is becoming evident that this boarding school environment is no longer a viable option for our family.  In addition, we have been counseled (and we agree), that our family, at least for this season in life, needs to remain together.   

As such, after much prayer, and seeking wise counsel from others with much more experience and knowledge than us, we have made the difficult, yet confident, decision to relocate our base of ministry to Kijabe Mission Hospital, which is on the same campus as the Rift Valley Academy.  In this way, our kids will be able to continue their education at RVA, but now as day students rather than as boarding students - which also means that we will be able to keep our family together during these important years.  In addition, I will be able to continue my calling to serve “the least of these” through orthopaedic medical missions and resident education/discipleship. 

Kijabe and Tenwek are similar (almost sister) hospitals - Christian mission in focus, and dedicated to the surgical education of African nationals.  Kijabe’s orthopaedic residents have rotated at Tenwek as part of their education for years, and we have recently started sending our Tenwek orthopaedic residents to CURE Hospital (located at Kijabe) for paediatric orthopaedic training.  Because of this already established Tenwek/Kijabe connection, even though our Galat “base of operations” will be at a different location (at least for the time-being), we very much view this as an opportunity to expand our current ministry in new and exciting ways. 

Nevertheless, as is so often the case in this life of international missions, our emotional response to this decision has been quite paradoxical.  While we are thankful for this opportunity to be together as a family, we are sad to leave our family at Tenwek, and our home, which we just recently rehabbed (our house at Kijabe will be quite small in comparison– three bed and one bath!).  However, we are thankful that another large family will have the opportunity to live in our house while we are away.  And while we are excited at the opportunity to broaden the scope of orthopaedic training at Kijabe, I will miss the day-to-day interaction with the consultants and residents at Tenwek whom I love deeply and view as family.  Thankfully, God has ordained two very qualified, talented and skilled orthopaedic surgeon consultants - Drs. Kiprono Koech and Dylan Nugent - to continue the work at Tenwek (as they have done even this past year while I have been stateside).  As I mentioned, I will remain closely tied to Tenwek, even while stationed at Kijabe, on multiple levels.

Some have wondered how this move will impact giving and support of the Galat Family Ministry going forward.  Although our ministry base of operations will change to Kijabe, we will continue with World Gospel Mission as career missionaries, so no change in giving is necessary.  Funds given to the Galat Ministry Account(125-03814) will continue to support our family, the orthopaedic work at Tenwek AND now the orthopaedic work at Kijabe as well.  Funds earmarked for the Orthopaedic Residency Fund (125-25240) will continue to support resident education at Tenwek, and now also at Kijabe going forward.  Thank you for being a part of our Galat Family Ministry in Kenya with WGM over the years.  Your partnership has enabled us to continue strongly in our calling to serve people in the most needy areas of the world through compassionate healthcare, and though the education, training and Christian discipleship of African orthopaedic surgeons.  Your support and giving is making a tremendous difference in the lives of countless people (directly, through surgical care, and indirectly through training of national surgeons)!

Please keep us in prayer over the next several weeks as we make this transition back to Kenya, and to our new home at Kijabe.   Pray for joy and peace as we pack (yet again!), say our goodbyes in Phoenix, and then enter a season of traveling with two little girls in tow!  Pray for Jeremiah, as he remains behind to continue college at ASU, and for Emma, as she continues for another 3-6 months at a wonderful program in Nashville, TN called Mercy Multiplied before joining us in Kenya.  Finally, pray for provision of all the orthopaedic needs (consultants, implants, residents, etc.) at Tenwek and Kijabe…the work is massive at both places – and in the entire developing world – and resources are so few.  This is a work that only God can sustain.  Thankfully, He is able to do immeasurably more than any of us could ever ask or imagine!   Thanks for all your prayers and support!!

Friday, February 12, 2016

When God’s Voice Thunders in Marvelous Ways

When our family left for Kenya the first time in 2008, we felt the strong conviction to go in faith, despite many uncertainties and potential challenges that this calling might afford.   As a newly graduated orthopaedic resident, leaving directly after training meant laying aside the possibility of board certification, a two step examination process for final validation of competency and knowledge as an orthopaedic surgeon.   Part one of this process of board certification involves taking, and passing, a rigorous written examination (which I did in July 2008).  After passing part one, a candidate becomes “board-eligible” (a period lasting up to five years).  Part two involves working at least 20 consecutive months in the same location, “collecting” all cases done during a 6-month portion of that time period, and then orally defending these surgical cases before a board of examiners.  However, the decades-old bylaws of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS) includes a “practice location” requirement for part two, in which a candidate orthopaedic surgeon can only collect cases while working in the U.S. or its territories.

As such, the thousands of cases I have done in Kenya over the years can not count towards fulfillment of the requirements for taking part two.  Orthopaedic surgery is the only surgical subspecialty that has this requirement (to my knowledge).   As a result, this location requirement is a major hindrance for newly-graduated residents to go directly into missions.  For us, however, several factors compelled us to go directly to Tenwek, rather than first working in the States to become certified prior to making the missions leap.  First, our children were at an age where waiting would make it more difficult to leave after a few years of U.S. based practice (education, sports, comforts, etc.).  Second, Heather and I know our own hearts, and realized our propensity to be the seed that falls among the thorns and is choked by the “worries of this world, and the deceitfulness of wealth” (Matt. 13:22).  So we went, and set ourselves to prayer (and recruiting hundred of others to pray with us), asking God to move the “hearts of the kings” and make a way for me to get board certified while working at Tenwek.

In 2011, after many solid, board-certified, U.S.-based Christian orthopaedic surgeons began questioning the ABOS of the fairness of this practice location requirement, I was asked (by the Board), to write a “proposal” for getting certified overseas.  The answer then, however, was “no,” the response letter to me saying “the exam was too high-stakes to make such a change in policy which would affect so few people.”  As such, with my eligibility expiring in 2013, I had to retake part one in order to remain “board-eligible” (an exam which, trust me, you only want to take once!).  Many times, Heather and I pondered whether we made the right decision, forsaking the possibility of board certification by going so quickly to Tenwek after graduation, and wondered if we should just leave the mission field and return to the states to complete the process (at least a three year commitment for us).  However, with the amazing things God was doing at Tenwek with the growth of the orthopaedic department, and the start of the new PAACS orthopaedic training program, we never felt the release or peace from God to leave, when His calling was so clear to go in the first place.  So we kept asking and praying, sometimes more fervently and sometimes less. 

As the years wore on, the possibility of certification overseas seemed to fade.   At times, we lost heart, believing that perhaps I would never become certified, in Kenya or the U.S. (a process which becomes more difficult the longer it’s delayed).   Not being board certified has broad implications on many levels, both in the U.S. and abroad, including legitimacy with the African Colleges, and even on finding work in the States while on furlough.  But last year, things began to change and God was starting to move.  He began adding people to (and removing people from) the board according to His sovereign will in a drama akin to the story of Esther.   Several board-certified orthopaedic surgeons who had been to Tenwek wrote letters to the ABOS asking them to reconsider their original decision.   Then, in November, I was told that a sub-committee had been formed to explore the feasibility of changing this decades-old policy.  Our hope was rekindled, although I was still expecting it to take years of step-wise, incremental change, rather than one instantaneous, complete paradigm shift.  However, today, at a time when I least expected it, I learned that the ABOS has voted to eliminate the U.S. practice location requirement for part two, not just on a one-person basis (i.e. me), but for all orthopaedic surgeons who choose to work in humanitarian (missions) settings directly after finishing residency!!

The implications for this massive answer to prayer are enormous.  I have corresponded with multiple orthopaedic residents over the years who have said the one hindrance to taking the leap into full-time missions is this issue of board certification.  Now, with this hindrance removed, we are praying for God to open the floodgates for an entire generation of new, young, orthopaedic surgeons who will say “yes” to full-time missions without the fear of the negative implications surrounding certification.   God did this according to his timetable, and to Him, belongs all the glory!   In short, God answers prayer and still does miracles today!  Thank you for all your prayers and support over the years.    Please continue, as we plan our return to Kenya, God willing, this summer, and as I begin to collect my cases for the part two oral exam which I will take in July 2018.  It's not over yet!

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.  Job 37:5

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sweeter than Honey

Mr. Joseph's pressure sore, in the operating room, prior to sharp debridement. 

After a few days of honey dressings.  Note the wet, white fibrous tissue is completely gone, and the wound beginning to heal with nice red granulation tissue. 

The honey is obtained raw and first strained with a sieve to remove all solids (but not enzymes). Then the honey is diluted with normal saline to make it more manageable.  

Gauze, soaked in honey, used to pack the open wound.  Mr. Joseph's grandson is packing the wound himself after expert training from our wound care nurses.

Mr. Joseph and his grandson, on the day of discharge.  Oh, happy day for all. 

Every once in a while, we care for a patient at Tenwek who defies the “natural order of the expected,” and demonstrates that we serve a God who intervenes and heals according to his sovereign plan.   Mr. Joseph (name changed), an unfortunate man in his 70s, was admitted to Tenwek after a horrible road traffic accident in which he suffered injuries a 20 year old would have difficulty surviving.  In addition to an open left ankle fracture, his left hemipelvis was completely crushed, injuries in an elderly man which would spell almost certain death in our environment.  After thorough washout of the open ankle fracture, given his age and co-morbidities, the decision was made to treat these very severe injuries non-operatively with bed rest.  Due to scarcity of bed space, he was placed on a ward far from orthopaedics, and unfortunately (because of his non-operative status) far from the top of our daily “tyranny of the urgent” list. 

Famous for my overly keen sense of smell, one morning during 7am report, I noted a scent quite different from the normal stench of the wards in the morning (a potpourri of smells too challenging to put to words – more than one visitor has had to sit down during rounds secondary the dizziness).  “What is that horrible (new) smell?” I asked the intern on orthopaedics.  “Do you remember Mr. Joseph?” he asked, looking somewhat forlorn.  The name jogged my memory, and I said “Oh yes…the old man with that terrible acetabular fracture we were treating with bed rest.”  The intern replied, "Yes, that’s right.”  “Somehow he developed a huge pressure ulcer on his sacrum and we transferred him to orthopaedics so we could keep a better eye on him.”  My heart sank as I said, “Let’s go take a look.”

Upon entering his room, my nostrils were completely assaulted with the foul smell of rotting flesh mixed with other unmentionables.  Overall, Mr. Joseph looked ill, on the verge of sepsis, as did his helpless roommates who were themselves enduring the smell in that crowded, warmish room.   Rolling him on his side, a huge pressure sore covering his entire rear-end was revealed, skin eroded all the way down to bone with wet, white fibrous tissue covering the gaping holes.  Only twice in my medical career have I ever gagged…the first was as a naïve medical student when the chief resident in general surgery told me to go smell the stomach wound of a patient “so that I would know the scent of pseudomonas infection.”  This was the second time.

The first thought that went through my mind was that Mr. Joseph would never survive this massive pressure sore, and my inclination was to let the family take him home to die.  However, his oldest son completely refused, saying that his father would live, and be completely healed from both his injuries and complications.  After explaining the details to the family, and the length of time it would take to clean up and heal this sore, the first step was to take Mr. Joseph to the operating room for a sharp debridement.  So, later that day, after our normal queue of trauma cases, Dr. Lando and I explored and debrided the wound in the operating room, finding it much deeper and more severe than we had originally thought.  We cleaned it the best we could.  “Now, let’s start thrice daily wet-to-dry dressing changes and hope for the best,” I told Dr. Lando, still with significant doubt that the patient would survive. 

After a few days of dressing changes, the wound looked only marginally better - less smelly, but still with necrotic margins, and lacking healthy granulation tissue (the beefy-red tissue the body forms to heal and close wounds).  One morning on rounds, Dr. Louis Carter, a seasoned plastic surgeon himself in his 70s, who visits Tenwek regularly to teach the residents (and consultants) about wound coverage and care, said, to my interest and surprise, “What that wound needs is a little honey.”  I’m sure my face entirely revealed what my mind was incredulously thinking: “Honey...you’ve got to be kidding!?”  Dr. Carter explained that God made honey not just for gastronomic pleasure and biblical imagery, but also for wounds - that the enzymes and sugar in honey fight harmful bacteria and fungus, and encourage the formation of healthy granulation tissue.  “But it can’t be the highly processed honey like you find in the supermarket,” he said.  “It has to be completely raw, with the comb and bees and everything else in it.”   “Well, what do we have to loose?” I said. 

Mr. Joseph was transferred to the Wound Ward, the finest raw honey was sourced from the local Mau Forrest, and the unconventional honey dressing changes initiated.  Amazingly, in just a few short days, the wound completely turned the corner – the smell completely left, the fibrous margins disappeared, and the most beautiful beefy-red granulation tissue appeared.  Excitedly, we continued the daily changes, and when we ran out of the first bottle of honey, we all exclaimed, “Get honey with even more bees in it!”  Soon, the wound was closing well and the patient was being mobilized to a wheelchair (by now, the fractures totally healed).   Even Mr. Joseph’s grandson, who wants to become a nurse, was trained to perform the daily honey dressing changes. 

After several months with us at Tenwek, wound still open but much smaller and healing nicely, Mr. Joseph was discharged from the hospital.  I saw his oldest son that day with a veritable smirk on his face.  He reminded me of his faith - that God would heal his father as we had together prayed.  A flood of paradoxical emotions washed over me: guilt for indirectly playing a role as consultant in the neglect that caused the wound, thankfulness for Dr. Carter’s inside knowledge of the medicinal value of honey, and marvel that God has the final say on life and death.  

Scripture is full of imagery related to honey, and the parallels with Mr. Joseph's story are astounding.  God’s just decrees, when believed and obeyed, are said to be sweeter than honey (Psalms 19:10).   Gracious words are said to be like “a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).  God's gracious decrees, His promises, bring healing and life to foul wounds.  And, at the end of time, those who put their hope and trust in God will enter the ultimate Promised Land, a Land flowing with milk and honey - perfect healing for our wounds, and victory over death - purchased by the precious blood of Christ shed for us on the cross.  Grace, forgiveness, healing, hope, life…sweeter than honey.

Thanks for all your prayers and support for our family!