Neurosurgeons Ali Baaj, MD, University of Arizona Department of Surgery, and Kumar Kakarla, MD, Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, successfully performed corrective spine surgery June 9 on a severely deformed Ugandan orphan approximately 8 years old at the University of Arizona Medical Center (UAMC) in Tucson. Now, Luwasi Muhammed, also known as “Little Lewis,” stands four inches taller and has a chance at living a normal life.
Little Lewis suffered from a severely deformed spine caused by tuberculosis. Four years ago, he was found abandoned near a Ugandan cemetery. He has been in the care of African Children’s Charities, a Tucson-based organization that sponsors an orphanage in Uganda. Both his parents had died of AIDS.
Given the complex nature of the pathology and the high-risk technical aspects of the surgery, it was clear that the surgeons and facilities needed to perform the deformity correction procedure were not available in Uganda. Doctors there said the odds against Little Lewis having a chance at a meaningful life were very slim. Their initial prognosis was that he was not expected to live for more than seven years, said Moe Mukiibi, PhD, an engineer and the founder of African Children’s Charities.
“We learned few medical centers in the United States have the expertise to perform this type of corrective surgery. In fact, very few in the world can perform the procedure successfully,” Mukiibi said.
It was through a chance meeting between one of the African Children’s Charities’ board members and an administrator at UAMC more than a year ago that Little Lewis’s case was presented to Dr. Baaj, director of UAMC’s Spine Surgery Program.
It was clear that if Little Lewis, who’s TB is inactive, did not have the corrective surgery, he would be at risk for developing progressive spinal deterioration, neurological deficits and paralysis, said Dr. Baaj. His condition had already significantly impaired his lung functions.
Dr. Baaj reviewed many scans and X-rays taken of the boy and was cautiously optimistic that he could correct the deformity and save his ability to walk.
It took African Children’s Charities more than a year to raise the money and overcome many obstacles to bring Little Lewis to Tucson.
“The complex surgery required disassembling, then reassembling, his spine and putting it into alignment,” said Dr. Baaj. “It took a team of doctors and nurses, but Little Lewis’ spine alignment is almost normal again. Furthermore, his lung function should show improvement as well.”
Little Lewis already is walking and playing and acting like a typical 8-year-old boy. “It is expected Little Lewis will require up to three months post-surgical therapy and medical follow-up before we can be confident in releasing him to go home to Uganda,” said Dr. Baaj.
Dr. Baaj, Dr. Kakarla and the University of Arizona Medical Center donated their services.
“We were happy to offer this specialized surgery at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson,” said Dr. Baaj. “Our hope is that Little Lewis will be able to resume a normal life after his surgery.”
About African Children’s Charities
African Children’s Charities (ACC) was founded by Moe Mukiibi in 2006 while he was a PhD student in engineering at the University of Arizona.
“We are a small charity, focused on providing quality care and support to each of our children,” said Vikki Kattman, president of ACC. “We want to help them grow up in a way that each child will want to reach out and help other Ugandan children.”
ACC has a six-member board of directors who volunteer their time and talents to ensure the goals of ACC are fulfilled and are supported by their Sunday school class and many other supporters. Umar Semwogerere is the director in Uganda.
“Our mission is to reach out to some of God’s neediest children and provide them a safe, loving home in an extended family environment, giving physical, educational, emotional and spiritual support and guidance so they can become successful and productive members of Ugandan society,” said Kattman.
ACC is a 501(c)(3) charity and a licensed NGO to do business as a charitable organization in Uganda. For more information, contact Vikki Kattman at 520-229-9466. Mailing address: African Children’s Charities, 10645 N. Oracle Rd., P.O. Box 121-300, Oro Valley, AZ 85737.