This past summer, Innocent "Rocky" Uwamungu lost his right eye in a freak accident. He was walking back to his rural home behind the Gapco station on the road to Gisenyi when he passed by a man pounding and pulverizing volcanic stone into gravel. People actually get paid to do this in Rwanda for the roads. A split second later, a shard of volcanic rock flew into the air and torn into his eye. Within days he had completely lost his eye.
Who knows if proper access to good medical care could have saved his eye. Unfortunately, we will never know and we had to move forward. Rocky did not stop riding.
Philip Gourevitch wrote a blog about Rocky in July. As an aside, interestingly, when I went to find this blog for this blog I realized it appeared in the Sporting Scene of the New Yorker and this is the only blog Philip has written for the Sporting Scene. Rocky Uwamungu, a former Rwandan farmer turned Team Rwanda cyclist is on the same pages as pro US football, baseball and basketball players.
During the Tour of Rwanda, Pierre Carey from Cycling News interviewed Rocky about losing his eye.
I wrote a blog about the Soul of a Team right before this year's Tour of Rwanda where I talked about Rocky's request in front of the team for help in getting a glass eye. The meeting with the team happened right after lunch during a training camp. Rocky asked for financial help in getting a replacement eye. He had some money saved but could not come up with the initial $800 required by a doctor in Butare, Rwanda. I went back to my computer after the meeting, posted Philip's blog and asked for help from our Facebook fans and within 30 minutes I had the money.
This was October....
Fast forward to December 28th. Rocky still was without an eye. I was so beyond frustrated. We had spent over two months dealing with a doctor in Butare who said, "Just send him with the money and we will work it out." My response, "Yeah, that's a NO! Give me details, specifics and we will meet you in Butare." After two trips to Butare by Felix Sempoma, Rocky's Cycling Club President, we were told there were no eyes available.
Felix then took Rocky to King Faisal, the main hospital in Kigali along with two other hospitals and was told that there were no eyes and they don't handle glass eyes but to wait and perhaps if they do they will call. Yes, that's what I'm going to do, wait around for a call from someone who will never call. I'm just going to wait until Rocky's 87 and I'm long buried in America. Yes, that's exactly what I'll do.
This is when my American can do, frustrated in Africa alter ego takes over.
Seriously, we can't get one glass eye for one Rwandan!?
On December 28th, I was out riding and venting to Jock about how much I can't stand this country sometimes (debilitating frustration talking), and why can't we get one (F*(&ing) eyeball, when he mentioned a friend of ours, Dr. Geoffrey Tabin. I met Dr. Tabin here in Rwanda a couple of years ago when he was in country conducting much needed cataract surgeries. He's a cyclist which is a plus.
As soon as I got home from the ride I emailed Geoff and with God like serendipity, I got an email the next day saying he was actually going to be in Rwanda in a couple of weeks and he copied Dr. John Nkurikiye, a Rwandan ophthalmologist at King Faisal and told me to contact him.
Two more emails and a couple of SMS messages later, Rocky had an appointment at King Faisal with Dr. John on January 3rd.
Yesterday at 11:00am Jock, Rocky and I walked into King Faisal, an hour later Rocky walked out with a new prosthetic glass eye.
When we went into the examination room and Dr. Nkurikiye began looking at Rocky I figured he would be measured for an eye and then we'd have to wait a few weeks to a month to get an eye, then come back. When Dr. Nkurikiye walked over to his desk and pulled out a black case and opened it up to reveal several dozen glass eyes and all of them the dark brown of the Rwandan eye, my heart literally skipped a beat. This was it, after months and months of frustration and diversions and time and expense, Rocky was getting an eye. When Dr. John put the eye into Rocky's empty eye socket and Rocky looked over at me and smiled I lost it. Tears were right there. Sometimes I mask all my emotions with fierceness and I push and push and fight for what these riders need and then, in a split second when I see it finally happen I become human again...and I have a good cry.
I will not know why we were able to finally get it done. I'm afraid to ask the questions. I believe Felix really tried, did he not ask the right questions all these months, did he not push hard enough? God forbid, was he told there were no eyes for another reason? I hate to even think about it, although I continue to wonder why it only took me a couple of emails and Rocky had his eye, an eye we had been waiting for months.
All I know is it is damn good to see Rocky smile, really smile and have this burden lifted off his shoulders and feel good about himself again. Of course, we have had quite a few good laughs from the team and others wondering if Rocky can see again....I just smile. Rocky sees just fine....with one eye!