Joel Igodobe of Uganda recovers at Providence Medford Medical Center on Tuesday after surgery to repair his left leg, which had been broken twice. Mail Tribune Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Surgery goes well for Ugandan boy

Joel Igodobe, a Ugandan youngster who needed a crutch to walk, underwent surgery late Tuesday morning at Providence Medford Medical Center to have his left knee mended.

The 9-year-old was resting Tuesday evening in a recovery room where he was expected to spend the night, said hospital spokeswoman Lauren Van Sickle.

"We're very honored to be part of this effort," she said. "We're very thankful we were able to do this for this young boy so he could get quality care in a compassionate surrounding."

All the medical care is being provided free for the youngster. Orthopedic surgeon Charles Versteeg of Southern Oregon Orthopedics, Inc. did the surgery, while Providence contributed the operating room, nursing staff, medical supplies and 24-hour post-operative care.

Rogue Valley Medical Center has offered a recovery room with Mercy Flights providing an ambulance to take Joel from Providence to RVMC. Jacksonville Physical Therapy has volunteered to do physical therapy with Joel following the operation.

Joel and a friend of his family, Margaret Kakaire, 47, are staying with Web and Karen Staunton of Medford. Supporters of the effort also raised funds for round-trip flights for the Ugandans.

The operation was the result of a humanitarian effort launched by Jacksonville-area resident Jack Smith, a volunteer for Today's Youth Matters, a nonprofit, interdenominational Christian organization based in Milpitas, Calif., dedicated to helping abused and neglected children.

After the group built a water slide at a camp in Uganda a year ago this month, Smith noticed the youngster standing off to the side watching other children plunge down the slide. Smith discovered the boy had recently broken his left femur immediately above the knee, and that he had earlier broken his left leg at the same point because of a knee problem.

Although a doctor in Uganda had told Joel he should be prepared to use a crutch for the rest of his life, Smith, a grandfather with four grown children, wasn't about to accept the doctor's prognosis. His group contacted a doctor from the United States traveling in Uganda, who took X-rays of Joel's leg.

Upon returning to the Medford area, Smith contacted retired physician Harry Walters, who took the X-rays to Versteeg. The surgeon concluded a knee operation would likely help Joel walk without a crutch.

Walters, who had practiced medicine in the Medford area for more than 30 years, helped organize the medical expertise that led to the operation.

Joel arrived Jan. 13 in Medford, accompanied by Kakaire, who serves as an interpreter for the boy, who speaks no English. She works for Uganda-based Action for Empowerment, a group that co-sponsors the camps with Today's Youth Matters.

Kakaire, who said Joel's mother is ill, said Joel broke his leg the first time when he was four years old. His father had abandoned the youngster, she said.

"I told him (Joel) he will soon be walking on his own," Kakaire said in an earlier interview. "He was very happy to hear that, very happy."

Joel lives in a slum about 2.5 miles from Jinja, a city of about 50,000 some 52 miles east of the capital city of Kampala.

Although Smith credited religious faith for bringing the operation about, he also cited the effort by so many people to make it possible.

"This morning when we picked him up, he had a big smile on his face," Smith said after the surgery. "When we got to the hospital, everything was still fine. But when we got in the prep room and all gave him a hug, there was a little tear running down his cheek.

"The thing that has kept him going is that he has his sight set on walking without that crutch," he added. "He's a pretty tough little guy."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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