KEnnedy Owuor fell for the first time in her hotel room in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, before headaches appeared. He initially dismissed the symptoms as a minor problem, but soon began to have difficulty speaking and moving.
An August 2020 trip to northern Uganda, as part of his job duties for the UN food agency, had to be interrupted. Instead, he was taken for 12 hours to UMC Victoria Hospital in Kampala.
There, John Baptist Mukasa, one of 13 neurosurgeons working in Uganda, performed a surgery that lasted three hours and saved his life. Owuor has made a full recovery since thenBut in June, Mukasa died at the age of 54 from Covid-19, the loss of his experience was a severe blow to a country of 47 million inhabitants.
Patients and friends have paid tribute to a man who turned down lucrative opportunities abroad to work in Uganda, training a new generation and always, as one colleague put it, going “the extra mile to understand the social factors that affect his patients.” .
Owuor, the Kenyan saved by Mukasa, says the news of his death hit him “like lightning.”
“We had become friends. We exchange WhatsApp messages regularly and we also talk on the phone. His passing is a great loss for Uganda, considering that the country does not have many neurosurgeons, ”he says.
Mukasa visited Owuor on a daily basis as he recovered in the hospital in the weeks following his surgery. “He always had a professional, humane and reassuring way of dealing with my concerns,” added Owuor.
Mukasa worked primarily at the Mulago National Reference Hospital in Kampala and was a Senior Lecturer at Makerere University. He specialized in neurotrauma, pediatric neurosurgery, and epilepsy.
Neurosurgery was practically non-existent until the late 1960s in Uganda, according to a 2017 scientific report.
Until the early 2000s, there were only a couple of Ugandan neurosurgeons, while foreign doctors filled the gap. Mukasa was part of a second wave of foreign-trained neurosurgeons, graduating in medicine from Lugansk State Medical University in Ukraine. He later went to China to do his postgraduate studies at Wuhan Huazhong University of Science and Technology.
Juliet Sekabunga Nalwanga, Uganda’s first neurosurgeon, met Mukasa when she was an intern.
“He was one of my mentors and teachers. He was a generous, joyful and interactive person and we as a team are still recovering from his loss, ”she says.
“Things I can’t forget [about him is] entering and leaving the hospital, at night and on holidays, sitting in the operating room observing our work, always with humility to learn from us too. We will remember this. “
Simon Mukuye, a senior neurosurgery resident at Mulago Hospital, met Mukasa in 2017.
“He was often the first to help a struggling student,” he says. “I remember being the first person to run a fundraising campaign for one of the students that required a neurosurgical procedure that could only be performed in India.
“Dr. Mukasa was a very kind and down-to-earth person. He always went the extra mile to understand the social factors affecting his patients in addition to their neurosurgical conditions. He was modest and regularly consulted the other neurosurgeons on all the cases he handled. He always put his patients before everything else. “
Mukuye says that Mukasa rarely misses a day of work. “I remember him during the Christmas holidays going to the hospital every day to tend to the multitude of neurosurgical patients who flocked to the hospital,” he says.
His death, he says, “dealt a great blow” to neurosurgery and training in Uganda.
Hervé Lekuya Monka met Mukasa while doing his master’s degree in surgery. Mukasa was one of his professors and thesis examiner. He says he still denied Mukasa’s death.
“I’d be ready to stop any of your activities to solve patients’ problems,” he says. “He had several opportunities to work abroad, but he turned them down because he thought it was unfair to leave his country, which has a great need for neurosurgeons.”
Owuor says that during a visit in 2020, the doctor was upset about a poor family who had traveled many miles to bring their seriously ill son to Mulago hospital for help, but could not afford the surgery.
Mukasa made the surgery possible.
“Dr. Mukasa was selfless and very committed to his professional calling as a surgeon,” says Owuor.
Mukasa is survived by his wife and two children.