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Plane crash survivor to help limbless

By Vision Reporter

Added 6th May 2007 03:00 AM

STRIDING across the lobby of the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, it is hard to tell that both of Rosebell Kirungi’s legs are artificial. “I am Rosebell,” she says confidently. For a split second however, I see sadness in her eyes; her confidence wavers just for a bit as she notes my shock, probably re

STRIDING across the lobby of the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, it is hard to tell that both of Rosebell Kirungi’s legs are artificial. “I am Rosebell,” she says confidently. For a split second however, I see sadness in her eyes; her confidence wavers just for a bit as she notes my shock, probably re

By Harriette Onyalla

STRIDING across the lobby of the Sheraton Kampala Hotel, it is hard to tell that both of Rosebell Kirungi’s legs are artificial. “I am Rosebell,” she says confidently. For a split second however, I see sadness in her eyes; her confidence wavers just for a bit as she notes my shock, probably realising that I expected to meet a shrivelled woman in a wheelchair.

But Kirungi’s belief that God spared her life so that she can help people born without limbs, amputees and victims of polio will not falter.

Both Kirungi’s legs were amputated after a plane crash in which UPDF officer Jet Mwebaze died. The plane in which Kirungi was travelling with nine other passengers left Entebbe Airport on Friday September 25, 1998 at 10:45a.m for Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But suddenly, the wing of the plane right where Kirungi sat broke off. Wind gushed in through the craft and Kirungi’s shoe followed the broken aeroplane wing into thickets which were fast approaching below. Deafening screams filled the small craft, but Kirungi, who was the only woman, held on to her seat silently.

At 11:15a.m the plane crashed on the mountain ranges of Kisomoro, about 25km from Fort Portal town. Luckily, the passengers got out with minor injuries and only one had to be pulled out of the wreckage. The pilot, who was among the five people who later died in the jungle, had warned that the weather was bad.
Then, the longest 10 days in Kirungi’s life began. It was always dark and it never stopped raining. The slopes were slippery and the survivors had to grab onto thorns and thickets to prevent themselves from falling down the high cliffs.

“We had nothing to eat or drink. We tried as much as possible to avoid drinking stagnant water for fear that it was contaminated. We could not tell day from night. Life only got harder. No one wanted to talk because everyone was bent on preserving whatever strength they had.

“We were looking for the nearest village, but we kept going in circles. All I could do was pray. I asked God to get me out of the jungle,” Kirungi says.

At the time of the crash, Kirungi who had a diploma in secretarial studies and another one in interior design was doing private business. She was planning to go to the U.K for further studies when she felt her business could flourish without much supervision from her.

A lot of controversy followed the crash. The plane had crashed on the Uganda–Congo border where ADF rebels were operating.

Kirungi stiffens and shifts. She declines to talk about what else happened in the jungle. She would rather look at the future and the task at hand. The 38-year-old woman is here to fulfil her vows to God.

Walking barefoot, cold and hungry through the difficult terrain, Kirungi had only one prayer, ‘that she will reach home, even if only to die at her parent’s feet’. “If you will get me out of this place alive, I will help someone,” she beseeched God. On the ninth day in the jungle, Kirungi had a vision.

“A blinding light flashed before my eyes and I was taken into a white house. That is when I realised that I was going to live. I was still in the jungle, but I knew God was going to rescue me. I am not born-again, but I believe in God,” Kirungi says.

The next day, rescue arrived. “I saw people dressed in army uniform, but I didn’t care whether they were Government soldiers or rebels. I knew I would cope with the situation whoever they were,” she says.

“But they were Uganda People’s Defence Forces soldiers, members of a rescue team from Kampala and local people. Some villagers had seen the plane crash, but could not venture into the jungles because they thought it had something to do with the ADF rebels who had terrorised the area days before.”
Survivors were brought to Kampala, but Kirungi’s family flew her to Nairobi Hospital for treatment.

“I had developed gangrene. My case was so complicated that my sisters organised for me to be taken to Lister Hospital in England. The doctors said I had only seven hours to live because the gangrene was spreading to my heart and I could die. They asked my family if my legs could be amputated because it was the only way to save my life.
“The doctor said he had never amputated both legs of a person of my age. The operation took about seven hours. I watched half of it on a computer screen before passing out. I was so courageous and determined to come out of the situation,” she narrates.

Kirungi says that on awakening after the amputation, she asked her sisters to join her in thanking God for sparing her life. She was even able to sing.
After 10 days in hospital, she began wearing her make up and chatting as usual. “Mentally, I expected life to change, but I was determined to overcome it. I had been advised on the steps to take in order to be mobile again,” she says.

After another 10 days Kirungi moved to her sister’s home.

A few days later, she joined physiotherapy classes to learn how to walk. After three weeks, she got artificial limbs and she started walking.
Her next plan was to move into her own apartment where her four-year-old daughter joined her.

“I refused any help because I was determined to start a new life. I did not want my child to be traumatised by the accident. I could cook, clean and bathe her. The only thing I could not do was drive so I had to take a taxi everyday to take her to school and back,” she says.
Two months later, Kirungi joined a college in London and got a diploma in Information Technology. She also pursued another course in programming.

She first worked with people with disabilities (PWDs) for nine months before getting a job with Kingstone Community Care Services where she was responsible for research on ethnic minority PWDs. She last worked for a charity, Kingstone Centre for Industrial Living before joining university for a degree in social services.

“I was getting the knowledge and meeting supportive people who would help me fulfil my dream back home. Many people looked at me as a role model,” says Kirungi.

In June 2006, She launched Rock Rehabilitation at London’s Hotel Antionette. ‘With your help, we can make a difference’ the posters with a picture of a little girl being fitted with an artificial leg read.

Kirungi plans to set up a rehabilitation centre in Uganda where about 2,000 people will get vocational training, new limbs, learn how to use other forms of mobility gadgets and be inspired to boost their confidence.

She was recently in Uganda to meet people in the Government and those who might be helped by her project so that she can present a better case to good Samaritans who will top up her personal savings to build the centre.

Kirungi even met President Yoweri Museveni. The Government will provide land for Rock Rehabilitation Centre near Kampala. The medics at Mulago Hospital have agreed to help out by providing technical guidance and pioneering the making of the limbs locally.

Kirungi was born in Burunga village, in Mbarara to Yelimia Kagyebagura and Ruth Kakaga.

Plane crash survivor to help limbless

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