Uganda Love This

Amy Scheel

Month: August 2016

A Roller Coaster Ride

I’ve heard the words before. “One of the kids collapsed after their injection.” I hoped for the best but prepared for the worst. I dropped everything in my hands and trailed behind Twalib as he sprinted to the room next door. There we found one of our RHD kids on the bed, unresponsive. I ran towards the kit that we had prepared last year after a similar event. Rose began pushing drugs, adrenaline, atropine-anything to get his heart to start again. Twalib began oxygen as I started chest compressions, thankful for my CPR certification. That may however, have been the only thing I was grateful for that day. At 12:30pm, 25 minutes after initiating CPR, Robin was pronounced dead.


I looked around the room at Jenipher, Rose, Twalib and Alyssa, the people I am lucky to call my family in Uganda, and couldn’t help but feel a wave of emotion at the pure look of defeat and exhaustion as everyone sat on the floor, dripping in sweat. Why was this happening again? No one did anything wrong. He received the same treatment that he had been receiving for the last 8 months. To make matter worse, Robin had traveled to the clinic by himself that day and none of the 3 phone numbers we had for him were going through. Thus we began the 3-hour search to locate his family in a village over an hour away from Gulu. We can hypothesize all we want about the cause of death but we will never be 100% certain about what happened, which makes everything worse. What I do know is that the amazing care that Twalib and our nurses gave him for the 8 months he was with us allowed him to live a stable and comfortable life for the remaining months of his devastatingly short 16 years of life.


At 6pm, his entire family showed up to clinic to retrieve his body and take him to the village for a proper burial. There is no way to describe the scene of a mother collapsing on the ground as she hears about the death of her child, although I’m sure those of you that work in the medical field have experienced this too many times yourselves. While I sit here and hope that I never have to go through that again, as I continue to pursue a (momentarily delayed) career in the medical field, I realize that this may be inevitable. Something about RHD being a preventable disease though continues to make this sting more. While a little broken, our team will continue the fight against RHD, remembering Robin, Jennifer, Regan and all of the other children who have lost their lives to this cruel disease, in the hopes that we can prevent this outcome for another child.


I have been meaning to write about the wildly productive trip that I had with Craig as we visited the ITW sites, screened 10’s of kids in Gulu for congenital heart defects and RHD, and officially launched the training phase of the Lira project but Robin was the only thing that I kept coming back to as I searched for what I wanted to say. Pictures will have to do.


Samaritan’s Purse team in Gulu


Echo training in Lira


Always a good day when Opio comes to visit

lake mburo

Chris, Ben, Alyssa and I on Lake Mburo!

Over the last week, we have been continuing the follow up process for all of the children with RHD that are in care at the clinic as most of them are due for follow up. In addition, last weekend we held support group #7, which was my last group before heading home. I could continue the “gloomy theme” of this blog post by saying that it was sad to attend my last support group (for now) but to be honest it was so much fun that there was no time for that! In the spirit of the Olympics we held an Olympic themed support group and it was by far my favorite one to date. We split the kids into 4 teams and had them compete in a series of events including a water balloon toss, handball and RHD trivia. If you want to see pure happiness just give a child a water balloon and tell them they get to throw it at their friend-I promise your instructions will be received with the biggest ear to ear smile. At the end of the “games” each child received a homemade Olympic medal- I promise it was just coincidence that team USA walked home with the gold while team Uganda came in 4th….Very excited to see what Alyssa will do with the group over the next year and can’t wait to be able to attend a group in the future!


balloon toss!


team uganda spelling ” rheumatic heart disease”


Teams Uganda, China, Brazil and USA


Fingers crossed that next time I see this one he’ll have a brand new Mitral Valve.


I simply can’t wrap my head around the fact that I will be leaving Uganda in 2 weeks and to be honest it probably won’t hit me until I get back. Until then I will continue to enjoy the crazy ups and downs that encompass this experience and cherish my last days here. See you soon, America.

Mount Kilimanjaro


There’s something so primordial about seeing something tall, not knowing what’s at the top and needing to see for yourself. Sure I could get on Google images but when the alternative is hiking in a low oxygen environment and getting so sunburned that your entire face peels off, who wouldn’t choose the latter?! On June 27th I started my Kilimanjaro adventure and it was hands down my most memorable travel experience to date. So memorable in fact that I must have briefly forgotten my blog existed…let’s go ahead and blame the altitude.

Now I wouldn’t say that I was a trekking company’s ideal hiker as I arrived at 10pm the night before the hike, sleep deprived, needing to rent basically every piece of equipment and coming off a 4-day fight with a parasite for which I definitely lost. I guess it’s karma since I told Alyssa that getting sick in your first month is a rite of passage…..guess who has been illness free the entire time she’s been here? Yea, not me.

I would like to take credit for choosing Trek2Kili, our amazing tour company and the breathtakingly beautiful Machame route for our journey, but I have to give Lisa all the credit. She did all of the research and I just tagged along. Azizi, the company owner said he’s never had anyone who joined a trek so last minute….nothing like a little spontaneity right? It’s not like it’s hard or anything…..

Lisa and I set off on the first morning from the Machame gate with our guide Goodlove (no I’m not making that up) and our two group mates Jeff and Chen. We chose the 6-day route instead of the 7 or 8 day routes because we wanted to see how hard we could push ourselves. Totally kidding-it was cheaper.

I don’t think I can accurately describe in words how amazing every aspect of my experience was but I will do my best (with the help of some pictures of course). I think my favorite part about hiking Kilimanjaro was that every day you ended up at a camp with a stunning view of the mountain on one side and the clouds beneath you on the other. As cliché as it may sound, it truly was about the entire journey, not just the summit day. Something about being outside all day, surrounded by nature, having no communication with the rest of the world, and being so exhausted that you fall asleep the second you hit the “pillow” (also known as a sweatshirt) is so wildly refreshing.

Day 1-Machame Gate to Machame Camp (9,400ft), 11km

On day one we stayed together and enjoyed a slow pace as we made our way through the rainforest. As we approached Machame Camp we got our first view of the peak as we rose above the clouds.


The whole Trek2Kili crew the morning we set off


Chen, me, Jeff and Lisa at Machame Gate



Arriving at Machame Camp, Day 1


Our first clear view of the summit

Day 2-Machame Camp to Shira Camp (12,500 ft). 5 km

While 5km may not seem like a lot, this day was straight up hill and we could all definitely “feel the burn” when we made it to the top. Jeff and I ended up hiking this day together as we hiked around the same pace-a trend that continued for the remainder of the trip. Shira Camp was hands down my favorite camp from the entire trek and when you see the pictures you can see why!


Thankful that I met such a great friend on the mountain!


Breathtaking views at Shira Camp


Day 3– Shira Camp to Baranco Camp (13,000 ft) 10km

On day 3 we hiked up to the “Lava Tower” at 15,000 feet and then descended back down to Baranco camp at 13,000ft. This day is when they see who is handling the altitude change. This camp was definitely one of the coldest as it was tucked into the mountain and didn’t receive much sunlight.


On the top of Lava Tower


Arriving at the Lava Tower


View from Barranco Camp

Day 4– Baranco Camp to Barafu Camp (15,000 ft) 9km

On day 4 we hiked for about 7 hours, including scaling the infamous “ Baranco wall”. There was a big push for us to get to camp as quickly as we could (without overdoing it) because we were to start ascending to the summit at midnight!



Scaling Baranco wall!

Scaling Baranco wall!




Goodlove and I taking in our first good view of the Barafu


Day 5– Barafu Camp to Summit Peak to Mweka Camp (19, 345 ft), 17km

At 12:30am Jeff, Goodlove and I started our ascent to Uhuru peak, the highest point on Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately Lisa was extremely ill and was unable to summit. For those of you with medical background knowledge her resting heart rate was 140bpm and her sats were 75%…..definitely would have been a bad idea to continue on.

I’ve heard people say that summit day is more of a mental challenge than a physical one but I didn’t believe it until I experienced it myself. When we started our trip up all I could think about was how cold I was. As we climbed over the first ridge, we looked up to see headlamps for as long as the eye could see-so high that I kept thinking “that will never be us”. I began to confuse stars for headlamps as I stared at the seemingly impossible feat in front of me. I followed Goodlove as Jeff, beginning to feel the effects of the increasing altitude trailed a few steps behind me. I will never forget when I turned around and asked him if he needed a break and the only thing he could find the strength to say was “words”. I took that as a yes. After 5 hours of hiking we had reached Stella’s point, where we found fellow hikers laying on the ground connected to oxygen tanks. Our other guide, Hussein had started 2 hours earlier with Chen and brought the only oxygen cylinder with him. When I asked what would happen if Jeff and I needed oxygen he replied “make sure you don’t.” Comforting.


45 minutes after reaching Stella’s point we arrived at Uhuru peak, the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro, just in time for sunrise. There is no way for me to describe the overwhelming feeling of accomplishment that left me so fulfilled as I stepped up to take my photo with the infamous Uhuru peak sign. We were fortunate enough to summit on a sunny and clear day, which allowed us to stay at the top for 30 minutes before descending down the mountain. With glaciers on one side and the sun rising behind Mwahenzi, it was the most spectacular sight I have ever seen.

All smiles at the top

All smiles at the top!


Thankful for these fools



I was clearly naïve thinking that coming down from the mountain would be easier than going up. I basically ran down from the peak upon descent because I was so ready to give my legs (and lungs) a break. I remember getting back to camp and being so exhausted that I actually failed to open my tent and fell asleep outside of it. 30 minutes later I heard a big thud, looked up and saw Jeff had done the exact same thing, executed equally as graceless. We knew we had 1 hour to rest before they would be waking us up to continue 4 miles down the mountain to our next camp. When I woke up I remember thinking “there is no way I can do this”. Everything hurt and all I could think about was sleep. The boots I had rented had torn my feet up so bad that I had blisters that covered both of my heels. If anyone has read or seen “Wild” I felt like Cheryl when she gets so frustrated with her boots that she chucks them off the mountain, although I did exhibit a little more self-control. Continuing the Kilimanjaro “mental game” we packed up our stuff and trekked onward. With every step down I could feel my lungs cheer as they filled with fresh, oxygen saturated air-the polar opposite of my aching feet as they reminded me of the harsh, yet rewarding expedition they had taken me on, with each throbbing step.


When we arrived at Mweka camp I gave Lisa the biggest hug, happy that she was safe and feeling much better after coming down a few thousand feet. We shared stories, laughed over our final tent dinner and fell asleep around 8pm, excited to wake up the next morning and finish the remaining portion of our journey. I think the conversation topics for the 4-hour trip down the mountain that morning alternated between how great a shower would feel and how good a cold beer was going to taste. A few short hours later we experienced both and I must say it was a magical encounter. 


The entire crew on our last morning!


Leaving the park

I still haven’t grasped my Kilimanjaro experience in its entirety and while I have shared parts of it here, this is just a small glimpse of my time on the mountain. I have never felt more alive than I did while hiking Kilimanjaro and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat (if my wallet allowed). I consider myself the luckiest girl in the world to have had this experience and to have been able to share it with so many amazing friends, new and old. For anyone that loves the outdoors and a good physical challenge then I recommend this without hesitation!


As they say on the mountain:

Wageni, mwakaribishwa, Kilimanjaro, hakuna matata!




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