Wheelchair hero’s 2,485-mile journey for Kenya’s first spinal injury rehab unit
Zachary Kimotho’s journey has fired Kenya’s imagination
A Kenyan man who was paralysed after being shot by carjackers nine years ago has caught the imagination of the nation by embarking on a 2,485-mile journey to South Africa on a manual wheelchair to seek treatment for his spinal injuries. Zachary Kimotho, a 44-year-old veterinarian, began the journey in June with the aim of raising £1.9m to build a spinal injury treatment unit in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
On the first phase of his journey, Kimotho raised £650,000 and covered 78 miles of the route to South Africa, where the nearest spinal cord injury rehabilitation centre is. In a telephone interview on Friday with the Observer, Kimotho, who was near the border of Tanzania and Kenya, said he had continued despite cold and wet weather and he had blisters on his hands from turning the wheels.
“It has been a very cold season in Kenya and I also have to contend with speeding motorists. I have faced so many challenges but I don’t want them to deter me from the goal,” he said.
Kimotho was selected in June to be the face of the campaign organised by the Kenyan Paraplegic Organisation to raise awareness of the suffering of spinal injury patients in Kenya. They appealed for the public to help “Bring Zack Back Home”, urging Kenyans to each contribute a Kenyan shilling (about a penny) in the hope that enough money would be raised to build the unit, saving Kimotho from having to complete his arduous journey. Kenyans took to social media to spread the word and the hashtag #BringZackBackHome became a top trend on Twitter.
Kimotho was paralysed in 2004 after he was shot in his car in Nairobi. “All of a sudden, a vehicle stopped in front of me and through the windscreen, I could see a man raising both hands. Momentarily, I thought I had caused an accident,” he said. A man with a gun then told him to open the door and to move to the passenger seat. He then felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. “A bullet pierced through my shoulder, through my spine all the way to the other shoulder,” he said.
Kimotho was in Kenyatta National Hospital for three months. Six months before the incident his wife had died, leaving him to bring up their son, now 10, alone. He had also lost his job as a vet a few months before. When he was discharged he was in a wheelchair, but he believes that his circumstances would have been greatly different had he received better care. With 20,000 people injured in road accidents each year, the spinal injury wing of the Kenyatta hospital is overstretched. Kimotho now hopes to help others avoid his fate. “I would like other spinal injury patients to benefit from proper treatment and rehabilitation – treatment I never got,” he said.
But Kimotho’s journey has now been halted by bureaucracy. “We had to stop because we had [only] applied for a [fundraising] licence of 60 days,” he said. The Kenyan Paraplegic Organisation has acquired 12 acres of land in Nairobi to build the new spinal care unit. “In early September, we’ll lay a foundation with the amount raised so far for all to see how their money has been spent. Then we’ll launch phase two of the initiative,” Kimotho said.