Issa's wife Janira helps him put on his prosthetic legs and get into his wheelchair
For a man who lost both hands and feet, Issa Kamara couldn't be in better spirits.
"During the whole time I was napping, enjoying myself," he says laughing, as he describes the days he was in a coma.
Family, friends and the Sierra Leone community held a fundraising dinner for Issa Saturday June 9th at St. Charles Church. He was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicemia nearly three months ago after returning home from a trip to Sierra Leone two.
At the time, he was a relations representative and contractor for Providence who enjoyed napping, working out and spending time with his wife and seven year old son.
Issa says he was on the phone at his mother Hawa Kamara's house when all of the sudden, he felt "short." He had trouble breathing and experienced cold chills.
On his mother's advice, he went to Providence Medical Center, where they concluded he had the flu and sent him home.
Issa's condition worsened to the point where he couldn't hold a cup and had trouble talking.
18 hours later, he was back at the hospital. Issa says the last thing he remembered was walking to the receptionist's counter.
"They took Issa to ICU," says his wife Janira. "He was on dialysis and had a breathing tube. One kidney shut down and the other was shutting down. We couldn't find out what had happened."
After three days and a barrage of testing, Issa found out that he had Meningoccal Septicemia, which is an acute and potentially life-threatening infection of the bloodstream.
When he awoke, he couldn't feel his toes and his fingers had demarcated.
"My fingernails sunk so much they pressed," says Issa. "They were flat like dry raisins."
Doctors had to perform leech therapy to get blood circulating in his fingers.
A week later, after his body stabilized, he was transported to Legacy Emanuel. They said his body had the equivalent of third degree burns.
"My skin peeled," says Issa. "It was like a newspaper outside when it rains."
After being in the hospital for three weeks, he lost his legs and hands.
Issa stayed in Legacy Emanuel, where they helped him form his legs and put him through intense rehabilitation to prepare him for prosthetics.
He moved on to the Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon (RIO). Rehab included four to five 30-minute physical therapy sessions and three to four 30-minute occupational therapy sessions each day.
Physical therapy sessions focused on Issa's core strength while occupational therapy prepared him for transitioning back to day-to-day life.
Through the rough times, Issa says he was encouraged to stay positive by his community rallying around him. "Every single day I had at least 15, often 20-30, people visiting," he says. "I always had the Sierra Leone community cooking and praying for me. If there is one thing I got out of this, it's that with support, you can always rehab."
Family members surround him, all giving thanks that Issa's life was spared.
"This community is made up of Christians and Muslims," says Pastor K.M. Sulimani. "On the issue of Issa, we stand together as one."
Like many in the room, Issa's cousin Erica Fahnbulleh was inspired by his resilience.
She says there was a time when visitors had to put their ears to Issa's mouth to hear him because his voice box deteriorated. Nonetheless, he was still telling jokes, says Fahnbulleh.
"Just to hear the same spirit was wonderful," she says. "One friend came out of the visiting room and said, 'That's Issa in there'."
The disease has been particularly hard on Issa's mother, who has already lost one of her sons and has another who is sick in the hospital.
"Issa was the one to take care of me if I get sick," she says before breaking down. "It's hard to have three kids and have things happen to them."
Issa credits his wife with helping him get through day-to-day life. The couple has known each other since they were students at Benson Polytechnic High School in the late 90s. She helps him put on clothes and prosthetics and pushes his wheelchair.
The family was living in a three-story home before the diagnosis. They have since moved into Janira's parents' home.
"I haven't really prayed until I left the hospital," says Janira. "In an empty house I prayed 20 minutes to God to not take my husband and best friend. I couldn't accept that. I couldn't explain that to our son."
While Issa has made significant progress, he still has to go through dialysis three days a week.
He says the process is exhausting but he must continue until his kidneys come back or he gets a transplant. Issa jokes that he doesn't want a transplant from one of his older uncles, prompting laughter around the room.
He plans to become a public speaker and educate others on his condition. Issa also wants to write a book. His aunt Florence Jacobs agrees that educating others on his disease is imperative.
"With a sickness like this that comes like a nightmare to people, why don't they talk about this?" she asks. "We didn't know about it until it happened."
The fundraising dinner for Issa was held on Saturday June 9th at St. Charles Church on Northeast 42nd Ave. Organizers got many $20 donations to help Issa and his wife to afford a home that can accommodate his condition. The dinner included Sierra Leone cuisine, Ghanaian drummers, African dance and a couple of guest speakers.