Joseph Siololo, from Kenya’s Narok County, was only 17 years old when a debilitating illness nearly killed him. “I was writing an exam when I collapsed and had to be rushed to hospital,” he recalls.
Unfortunately, doctors weren’t able to diagnose his illness, and he was sent home to be close to his family. At one ominous point, when they thought he had drawn his last breath, Joseph’s family started making arrangements for his burial. “My head was shaved, as is the Maasai custom, and hoes and shovels were gathered. Then… I started breathing again.”
Joseph went on to recover from tuberculosis of the blood after spending three months in hospital, but his hopes of becoming a surgeon were shattered. Having suffered partial paralysis, and with his parents’ meager resources, his education came to an abrupt halt. Without a proper education or career, what would become of him?
In 2015, Joseph’s dream of helping others was rekindled when he was given the opportunity to join Operation Eyesight in our work to eliminate the eye disease trachoma. Left untreated, trachoma causes the eyelid to turn inward and the eyelashes to rub the eyeball, which scars the cornea and ultimately leads to irreversible blindness. But with early diagnosis and surgery, a patient’s remaining vision can be preserved.
Joseph was trained to become a Trachomatous Trichiasis (TT) case finder in Narok. He helps identify, counsel and refer TT patients (those suffering with the late stage of trachoma) to an outreach camp for surgery.
He quickly proved himself to be one of our top TT case finders. At a review meeting last fall, he impressed his peers and our Kenya staff with his knowledge of trachoma and his ability to encourage patients to seek treatment. Within six months of his training, he had already identified and counseled 15 patients, 12 of whom had received surgery.
“When I encounter resistance from a prospective patient, I return with a previous patient who accepted surgery and was healed,” Joseph explains. “The new patient then becomes more receptive to the idea of surgery. Sometimes I have to bring the village elders on board to encourage people; however, with the counselling skills I gained during my training, I’m able to convince most patients to receive treatment.”
Many people in Narok live in remote areas, which means Joseph has to travel great distances in search of patients – a daunting task, especially for someone with a physical disability. He sets out early in the morning, and when he discovers someone with trachoma, it can often take several hours of counselling before the person agrees to go for treatment. It makes for a long day, but Joseph says he is motivated by the joy of the patients once they are healed.
His career path might not have turned out the way he intended, but in a way, Joseph’s illness has enabled him to help others. “I usually tell patients, ‘Look at me! I’m paralyzed because I didn’t get immediate medical attention. The reason I’ve come this far is to help you keep your eyesight by advising you to go for treatment early.’”
We’re extremely grateful to Joseph and his fellow TT case finders. Their efforts are vital to our mission to eliminate avoidable blindness, and their dedication to their communities is truly admirable. Thank you!