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Moved to Run
Remembering a Palliative Care Nurse’s Sacrifice for Patients in Need
It has been about twenty years since Lisa Douglass donned a pair of running shoes. But today, she finds herself training for the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon happening on October, 12, 2014. As a National Hospice Foundation Run to Remember participant, she is running this race in memory of Claire Muhumuza and her daughter Musimenta Miricah.
Lisa first heard about Claire’s story through her colleagues at the Center for Hospice Care in Indiana. The organization partners with the Palliative Care Association of Uganda and through this partnership, Claire received a scholarship to further her training in 2010. These two organizations were connected through the efforts of Global Partners in Care, a nonprofit organization working to support palliative care in resource-poor regions of the world.
Although Lisa never met Claire or Musimenta, their story inspired her to challenge herself both physically and mentally. “Her story was just really compelling and I thought she needed to be remembered, she and her daughter,” says Lisa.
Claire was a nurse in Kibaale in South Western Uganda, a region so remote that there are no physicians to administer morphine to those who are in serious pain or are terminally ill. Claire was given a scholarship to attend a clinical program for one year in Kampala to become certified to administer pain medication. She left her home, husband and two sons for training because she understood how important it was to be able to provide comfort and compassion to those who were suffering.
Once certified, Claire returned home to Kibaale and began working as Clinical Officer at Kagaadi hospital. She moved her family into a small room within the hospital and went straight to work utilizing the knowledge and training that she had received. She was also blessed with another child. A baby girl named Musimenta – which means “gift from God.”
In 2012, the Ebola hemorrhagic fever broke out in Kibaale and the hospital started filling with people who were infected. Claire noticed that many of her colleagues were not returning to work because they were frightened to catch the disease. Claire refused to abandon those who needed care. Her dedication never wavered and she remained with her patients providing the care she always had given even before the outbreak. She would go to work, provide care for the sick, and then come home to her family always removing her clothing before entering the small room, so as not to infect them.
Despite her vigilance and precautions, Claire contracted and succumbed to the highly infectious disease. Musimenta, who was 6 months old at the time, was also stricken with Ebola and died as well. Claire’s husband and her two sons were quarantined for two months in the small room where they had been living. They survived on bread and water. When the quarantine was over, all of their possessions, apart from a laptop computer and some photographs were burned.
Claire had been the breadwinner of the family. Claire’s husband was forced to pawn his laptop computer – one of his sole possessions – for money to purchase food and clothing. Claire’s sons, Crispus and Tonny, were unable to return to the school they had been attending.
This is where Lisa and Claire’s stories intertwine. Lisa, a Development Officer at the Center for Hospice Care, was extremely moved by Claire’s sacrifice. Her organization has been able to provide some support to the family and help the younger son, Tonny, return to school.
Lisa was familiar with Run to Remember through her work with hospice. Initially, she thought some of her health challenges may be too significant and there was no way she could do the run. Determined to complete the race, she registered for the run without getting physician clearance. She maintains the challenge is worth it because of the meaning behind it.
“I felt here’s this nurse who would go to the hospital and care for these people she knew were dangerously ill because no one else would go,” says Lisa, “I thought that I didn’t have any excuse to not try.”
With her fundraising run, Lisa will raise money for “Road to Hope,” an initiative that supports orphaned children in Africa. This initiative was created under the same global partnership which funded Claire’s scholarship in palliative care; five scholarships were awarded in 2013.
When asked if Lisa would like to add anything else about Claire and her legacy, she talks about the picture of Claire, her husband and Musimenta. Claire was determined to have a family photo taken of the three of them. Her husband was adamant about waiting for the boys to return home from school in a few months. Claire persisted and she finally convinced him to take the photo. Months later, Claire passed away. This photograph is the only one left of the three of them, together. Claire’s husband now has a permanent visual of his wife and daughter, all because of Claire’s persistence.
Even though Claire and Lisa lived thousands of miles apart, in two vastly different worlds, their lives crossed paths in an unexpected way. Claire’s dedication to her patients and her selflessness impacted Lisa in such a way that she was moved to run and the money she raises through Run to Remember will benefit the community Claire gave her life for.
Amanda M. Bow
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