The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 15: The article that saved my son’s life

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My struggles were far from over.

On one side, as a journalist, I had the Gambian secret service, which is notorious for torturing, killing or “disappearing” people, giving unfounded stories to justify their actions. On the other side, I had to deal with my partner’s family.

Theresa’s mother had joined her two daughters in England. The daughters’ influence on the mother was noticeable. She started to question my relationship with Theresa. They believed I had nothing.

Augustine Kanjia

Mark Henderson / Worcester Sun

Augustine Kanjia

They had already known me from Sierra Leone, where their brother was a friend of mine. Tunde Johnson, their tailor brother, worked with his sisters in England to discourage me and rain insults on me.

But I was tough, even leaving our rental house to avoid the distraction.

Their challenge to me became mental, through words they used to discourage me. They thought I was too poor for their daughter. Their elder sister, Mary, said, “He is a journalist working for only $15 a month, we don’t expect him to marry Adekunle,” the name by which Theresa was commonly known.

At the time, though, those two problems seemed small. Glen, our adolescent son was ill.

Read the most recent installment of Augustine’s incredible journey to Worcester, Part 14: Family vs. Husband-to-be, or scroll down to start from the beginning.

Glen’s health was deteriorating by the day. His heart’s valves were weak. It’s called pulmonary stenosis.

Gambian doctors couldn’t do anything; they fooled us with loads of medication to calm the tension. As his health worsened, I was left to think fast as the family had their own plans, which was, to me, no plan at all.

Theresa and I argued over her parents’ decision to take the child to Sierra Leone, where war had ravaged every facet of society. Hospitals were not working well and war was eminent as there was no final agreement between the sides.

Theresa’s family planned to send her and Glen to Waterloo, which is very close to Freetown, the capital. Bad news was emerging from there every day and news of atrocities abounded. There were battles for some key towns every day. This is a place you stepped away from if you wanted to live a better life, not a place you traveled to.

Theresa knew all this, of course, but still tended to side with her family. Her family was from Waterloo, where there was rebel insurgence. It was clear to me that her family could not comprehend that the war in Sierra Leone was quite far from over.

Back to reporting, Augustine must work to keep himself out of danger.

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Back to reporting, Augustine must work to keep himself out of danger.

During one of our family prayer times, we prayed aloud for their return home to find a cure for Glen. We discussed the dangers of returning to Sierra Leone. Quite a good number of people had lost their lives in disbelief of the presence of rebels.

I was quite glued to my radio for comprehensive news coverage by the British Broadcasting Corporation. One evening about 5, I held my radio tight in my hand and lifted it up high for all to hear the news about rebel advances to Freetown.

Rebels were to overrun the capital again. The news spoke volumes to those it affected.

I wanted to save my son, and I wanted to save both of them from Sierra Leone. I prayed about it and thought of a plan.

I put it to my partner, Theresa. “I have an idea,” I said. “It is better you swallow your pride to save Glen’s life. I have written a comprehensive article about Glen’s medical situation. I want us to publish it.”

Spreading the word about Glen and his potentially fatal affliction would make it more likely we would find someone who could help us.

Theresa accepted, but had asked me to hold on until she could get a word from her sisters in England. I waited for a little while. The family sent some money for the return to Sierra Leone. I thought, “Didn’t they know about the lack of medication and poverty in a war zone?”

I told Theresa her family was not seeking anything good for her, but something very dangerous and life threatening.

I published the article in The Point newspaper with his photograph, pleading passionately to the public as if a mother was pleading. I did not mind publishing it. Theresa did not know I had gone ahead.

I stressed the narrowed valves in and all the weaknesses it caused my sone. A few days later Theresa’s phone started ringing, with one important call after another.

Theresa asked me if I wrote about Glen in the newspaper. I told her I wrote about Glen to save his life.

Augustine Kanjia

Mark A. Henderson / Worcester Sun

Augustine Kanjia (present day, at home in Worcester) with his wife, Theresa Johnson, and his 17-month-old daughter, Ann-Britt Anna.

There is certainly good news at the end of it all. One of our church members, Therese Abraham — we called her Aunty — called Theresa one early morning asking if the article was about her son.

Yes, Theresa said. “I am confused about his life because his heart doctor said he would not make it beyond 13 years [of] age if we did not step in to save him,” she added in a very sad tone.

“How old is he?” Aunty asked.

“He is already 12 years old. It is worrisome at this stage,” Theresa said.

Unknown to us was that Therese Abraham represented Chain of Hope in Gambia. Chain of Hope provides live-saving heart operations for children.

Therese secured a place for Glen. He was going to be the first case for her, so she was happy to have seen the newspaper article and the ensuing television piece about Glen.

When Therese first met Glen, he needed help climbing the stairs. It was very sad, and it moved her. Nobody would have believed that Glen’s healing had started by our first visit to meet Therese.

She connected us with Chain of Hope and we contacted them. They gave us money to go search in the neighboring country of Senegal for a good echocardiogram, which was not found in Gambia. It was a pity.

My life took another twist here again as I kept going from Gambia to the Sheikh Anta Jobe hospital in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

Our first day was not difficult. I stayed with a friend, Suluku, who was a classmate of mine. He was not working and lived among the very hungry and very poor. Suluku was reluctant to look for a job because of his limited ability to speak French.

We returned to Gambia after going through the medical protocols. Dr. Sallah was said to be the best doctor in the country. However, he had no equipment nor did the government have any.

Meanwhile, Glen’s condition took a turn for the worse. He was pale, hungry looking and weak.

Despite the hope of surgery in Dakar, the two procedures and open heart operation Glen needed would have to be performed in England. Photos of him were sent to England, and it was time for him to go.

After a hard battle gathering all the information from Dakar, we decided Theresa and Glen should go to England for his operations. They went, they were well received and the procedures started.

Augustine's then-girlfriend, now-wife Theresa A. Johnson

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Augustine’s then-girlfriend, now-wife Theresa A. Johnson

Theresa called her sisters from a Chelsea hospital. They were shocked. “Theresa, when did you come here? Is it for Glen’s health? How did you get to this place? Is it Augustine that facilitated it?” they asked.

The barriers between Theresa’s family and me broke down a bit. In their eyes, I went from being stupid and poor to just poor because even in my poverty, I saved Glen’s life with the article I published.

Dealing with my son’s health meant my other reporting was interrupted.

I still reported on some government ministers in the government of President Yahya Jammeh” being spotted in a place not worthy of a government official. The writeups were detrimental.

I was still not popular among some journalists, like those who were on the government payroll.

My wife and her family were still against me, although less so after I had arranged to save Glen’s life. The government was still monitoring my movements, and my fellow journalists were hunting for those who were critical of the government.

But I had saved my son and I was still reporting.

I had won this round.

Glen J.P. Kanjia

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Augstine Kanjia’s son, Glen J.P., in Worcester (2015)

To catch up on the continuing series, follow these links:

Introducing the unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia

Part 1: The Decision That Saved My Life

Part 2: The Struggle for Survival in a Strange Land

Part 3: Good luck, bad luck, who knows?

Part 4: The Smoldering Bitterness of Enemies

Part 5: The Soccer Match That Changed My Life

Part 6: The Secret Visit to Freetown

Part 7: More Attention, More Friends … More Enemies

Part 8: Escape to Freetown

Part 9: More Suffering, More Tears

Part 10: Family Rejection vs. Manhood

Part 11: New Hope, More Troubles, and a Gift

Part 12: Deceived in Hard Times

Part 13: Dangerous Investigative Journalism Begins

Part 14: Family vs. Husband-to-be

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