Perseverance Against Impossible Odds: The Story of Joseph Okwara MHM

It must have happened to everyone: an empty car battery or an empty mobile phone battery. That is inconvenient, causes annoyance and sometimes delays us in performing our work properly.

But what happens when your heart’s battery dies? Joseph Okwara MHM can tell you that. For more than a year, Joseph’s life has literally been hanging by a (thin) thread, connected to a battery!

When I met Joseph last October, he told me, all that he had experienced in the previous year. Around Easter he played a game of football with some young people in Loyoro in Karamoja, Northern Uganda. Suddenly his chest started hurting and he thought he was out of shape, so he thought he should exercise more. Unfortunately, the pain got worse, so much so that he had to break off the game to rest. That rest did not help him, the pain became more and more intense. But he was alone in the presbytery at the time, so no one around to give him advice or support. Finally he called a colleague in Panyangara, who came immediately. The colleague immediately took him to a clinic.

This was the beginning of the painful odyssey in which many hospitals were visited by Joseph and no one could help him. He was in excruciating pain for six months before a doctor in Nairobi told him something was wrong with his heart. Due to clogged arteries (cholesterol) and an increasingly harder pumping heart, his heart had become too large for his chest, as it were. The only option to help him was heart surgery, not a simple but a very complicated operation that could not be done in East Africa. Joseph was referred to a hospital in India.

So, at the end of 2021, he arrived at a hospital in India where he found a cardiologist who could help him. After many examinations, tests and conversations, it was decided to operate. During an operation that lasted about a day, Joseph received a kind of motor in his heart. Via a cable to his brain, which comes out through his skull, he is now connected to a battery that he must have with him 24 hours a day, as well as a spare battery and a transformer. So, he constantly, everywhere and always, wears a belt of equipment. Of course, he must also be assured of a constant power supply to charge his batteries.

During his operation he experienced another special experience, the so-called “near death experience”. This is a wonderful experience, where you have the feeling that you have almost reached your final destination. This is accompanied by warm and very pleasant feelings and you would like to cross over to the other side.

I could fully empathize with this part of his story because I myself had a “near death experience” during a coma. Joseph was very happy that he met someone with whom he could share this and who could sense what it was. We have become soul mates, so to speak.

After the operation, Joseph was deprived of food and water for a few days and his thirst was horrendous. Only wetting lips was allowed, but not drinking a drop! He became rebellious and angry with doctors and nurses, but these professionals managed to get him through it.

Completely exhausted, emaciated and energyless, he returned to Uganda. His first task was: to strengthen! The doctors advised him to exercise as much as possible, so Joseph started walking short distances.

When I met him about a year after the operation, he was already able to walk a little but tired easily. He then lived in the Mill Hill Guesthouse in Kampala and walking there is a dusty affair, while he had to keep everything very clean and hygienic. In the morning he regularly went to the Sisters’ convent nearby to preside at the Eucharist. It was quite risky to walk on a busy road with such a life-giving cable coming from your head! Fortunately, the Mill Hill formation house in Jinja still had a treadmill that no one used. The rector brought that device to Kampala and Joseph was very happy with it and was able to walk a distance every day in his room.

Deeply impressed I listened to his story; I was filled with admiration to see that he was regaining his zest for life, his optimism helped him through difficult times and he looked forward to the check-up that should soon take place. That was also not possible in East Africa, so he had to prepare to go to India again.

What courage it takes to remain cheerful in the face of such setbacks and to dare to dream of a new missionary task, whatever it may be.

Fortunately, the General Council has decided to give Joseph a new appointment to India, closer to the doctors who could help him in need and keep him under control.

There he has now arrived in the Mill Hill community in Karunapuram where he has been festively received by his colleagues and the students, as the photos show.

I hope and wish that Joseph’s zest for life and perseverance may yield results and that he may, given the circumstances, live the best possible life. I wish him much success in this.

Corry van den Bosch MHM

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