Physical Therapy that initially started as a volunteer service by a United Methodist at UMC General Hospital, Kissy in eastern Freetown is today winning national acclaim for the hospital. To date, the Physical Therapy unit has treated 2065 patients since its inception in 2008 with 60% fully recovering and 30% partial recovery. By October, the unit had recorded 447 patients for 2013 alone – the highest number of patients visiting the unit per annum.
Steven Moinina, the volunteer now turned head of the Physio Therapy unit of the hospital has treated many people and helped them regain normalcy and functionality through the now over-crowded Physio-Therapy unit at the hospital.
Dr Ibrahim Sallieu Kamara, a lecturer at Milton Margai College of Education and Technology narrated how by a stroke of luck he got in contact with UMC General Hospital’s Physio-Therapy unit that completely changed his life story.
“I woke up one morning and discovered that I could not stretch out my hands; neither could I walk. I had a feeling that is difficult to name but I felt like a heavy stone was hanging around me and was feeling immobilized. My family became worried and they were looking for help from everywhere. A doctor in one of the hospitals contacted told my family that I was going to die in five days if they did not seek medical help from abroad. But my family pressed on seeking for a place within the country where I could get help. They took me to Choithram’s Hospital…” ( Choithram’s is one of the leading hospitals in Sierra Leone) . “Again, when the doctor saw me, he thought I would die the next day. I was admitted immediately. I spent about 37 days at Choithram’s and was discharged”.
Kamara explained that even after spending over a month at one of the country’s best health facilities, he could still not walk or move limbs or stand.
“I had to be moved around in a wheel chair. My situation has continued to improve tremendously since I arrived here at Kissy UMC General Hospital. Since then, I have been doing guided physical exercises; and in less than a month, I can now walk at a faster pace. Now I can move my limbs and could make effort to stand up on my own”, Dr Kamara said.
Kamara further explained that before then, he could not move his left hand to the right hand; neither the right to the left.
“But now all of that is gone and I feel much more energized and alive”, he explained moving both hands in rapid succession to demonstrate his recovery adding that he preached the previous day for close to an hour.
“People thought I was going to fall down. But I did not”, he said laughing.
“The guys here are real professionals: treatment is good; they are consistent, caring and treat patients with a human face. They give patients freedom of discussion; they dialogue. These are all aspects that are helping us. They are not like the doctors one would find elsewhere that are dictators or would frown their faces. There is fun and laughter”, Kamara says of the Physio Therapy staff.
United Methodist pastor, Rev Steven Momoh Momo-Jah is rapidly recovering now after he was referred to the UMC General Hospital by a doctor at the Government Connaught Hospital where he was initially hospitalized. He suffered a stroke after his blood pressure shot up on July 29. With regular guided exercises three days a week, the now enlivened pastor says there is a significant improvement in his life.
“I became unconscious and I was unable to talk or walk. People had to carry me on a wheel chair. I can now do everything for myself including taking my bath which I could previously not do”, he said.
Rev Momo-Jah said his family was worried that he was going to die because of the recurrent sad events in his life in recent times. He lost his wife and son last year. Rev Momo-Jah says people believe all of those trials had affected him which subsequently resulted into the heart attack amounting to stroke.
Tigidankay Kamara, 42, a high blood pressure patient reports regularly for physical exercises from a three kilometer home away. She suffered a stroke on June 27 in Makeni in the north of the country and could not walk at the time. She can now walk to the hospital to take her exercises. She has been to two other hospitals previously but was realizing a far more improvement at the UMC General Hospital Physio-Therapy unit.
“Though we are encouraged to take our medication, but the personnel here stress on physical exercises”, she said.
Moinina says the journey to establishing the unit was difficult since most people he met including his colleague nurses did not believe in it. His first step was to convince the medical director, Dr Dennis Marke to allow him open a Physio-Therapy unit. After encouraging him to do so, the next challenge was convincing patients to come to the unit for treatment.
“I was working effortlessly; I was going from house to house. I was running after people to make sure I serve them”, he explained.
Moinina said his effort was a way of fighting the belief people held at the time about physical disability. He said people attributed physical disability issues to witch craft while others thought it could not be cured at all.
“My first patient here in this hospital was a stroke victim; an elderly woman whom the relatives had given up. They said there was nothing they could do about her condition but I told them that I could do something about it. She was not able to walk; she could not stand; her speech was not very clear. So day by day, I would come do bedside physio; I would do massage; I would help her sit in bed; I would help her stand, etc ….To an extent; I would devise local exercise tools… ”, he said pointing to the series of drill implements he had designed and which patients were effectively using.
“At some point, even some staff members here in the hospital ridiculed my effort and described it as waste of time…”, Moinina recalled.
Moinina said the first patient eventually recovered about 70% normalcy.
Eventually some nurses became interested in what he was doing, even doctors; to an extent that they started referring patients to him. At that time the physio-therapy unit was not yet established. Steven would visit patients in their wards or homes. After three years, a VIM team from Indiana arrived in 2008 and among them were some physio-therapists like Angie Whittaker, Melissa Clifor and Heather Jones. Upon their return, Moinina says, they sent some equipment which are now being used in the unit.
As more and more patients now pour into the small facility, space and equipment are some of the key dire needs of the UMC Physio-Therapy unit. Patients queue up for most of the limited facilities used for exercises.