November 20, 2000
A shrill ringing awoke Dr. Matthew from a deep sleep. It was 4 a.m. The night nurse on duty in the isolation ward of St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor was on the other end. Agitation and anxiety accentuated her voice.
“Dr. Matthew, please come quickly. Simon panicked and pulled his I.V. out and removed his oxygen mask. He’s out of bed and somehow made his way into the outer hallway. There’s blood everywhere. Doctor, please. I can’t contain him alone.”
“Calm yourself, Sister. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Call some of the other off-duty staff. We’ll need more help.”
“Yes, Dr. Matthew.”
The patient, Simon Ajok, was a fellow health worker trained by Dr. Matthew and he was exhibiting the final and most horrific symptoms of the hemorrhagic Ebola virus.
Dr. Matthew stumbled from his bed, pulling on the armor of his profession—gown, mask, cap, apron, and two sets of rubber gloves. He was groggy from too little sleep and too much stress during the last 30 days of the outbreak. Despite this, he rallied to the cause of serving those in need.
Simon Ajok had been a devoted colleague and now he was near death. Dr. Matthew rushed to the hospital. Forgetting his goggles and face shield, his only concern was for his friend. This omission would be his death sentence.
It took four health care workers to wrestle Ajok back to bed, spewing blood and bleeding from his nose. He died an hour later.
“Dr. Matthew, you should get some rest. Dr. Odong can do your rounds this morning.”
“Yes, Sister. Thank you for your devotion. I’ll return to the ward around Noon.”
Dr. Matthew Lukwiya returned to the isolation ward again over the next few days ministering to the ill, but after a week was beginning to show signs of fever. He became confined to his own bed with one nurse in attendance. Two days later, while administering an I.V., his nurse noticed a deterioration in his cognitive abilities. His understanding seemed to be waning. However, later in the day, she observed him speaking clearing, in prayer to God: “Oh, God, I think I will die in your service. If I die, let me be the last.”
Then in a clear, strong voice, he sang, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads again the foe; forward into battle see his banners go!”
The nurse looked on, marveling at her superior’s resilience, his faith. While she and the other workers were always amazed at the doctor’s dedication, now in his darkest hour she truly realized the depth of his faith. Tears welled up in her dark brown eyes then ran like rivulets down her cheeks.
December 5, 2000
Margaret Lukwiya was a light sleeper. Being a doctor’s wife, she had to be. But this humid December night, she found herself, instead lying in bed staring up into the blackness of her bedroom ceiling. Her prayers for her husband seemed to be rebounding off that ceiling. Where was her Lord in all this suffering and death?
And then the phone rang.
Dr. Matthew was dead.
Margaret rose, dressed, and went to the isolation ward to bid her husband a last farewell. It wasn’t to be. In accordance with protocols he had established, his body was already sealed in a sterile polyurethane bag ready for burial. It could not be reopened for fear of spreading the disease further.
February 6, 2001, the World Health Organizations declared that Uganda was Ebola-free with no new cases in the previous 21 days. One hundred seventy three people had died, including Dr. Matthew Lukwiya. Survivability rates for Ebola had previously been only 10%, but the rate in this tragedy was nearly 50%, an increase partially attributable to improved health care procedures instituted by Lukwiya.
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