Wheelchair Hero’s 2,485-Mile ‘Trek’ Benefits Spinal Cord Injury Rehab
Jan 23, 2013
Zackary Kimotho is a Kenyan man on a mission. Nine years ago, he was shot by carjackers, leaving him with a spinal cord injury that requires him to use a wheelchair. In June, he began a 2,485-mile journey to South Africa in a manual wheelchair to seek treatment for his injuries and, hopefully, raise the $3 million needed to build a spinal cord injury treatment unit in Kenya’s capitol, Nairobi.
Life changed drastically for Kimotho after falling victim to carjackers in 2004. His wife had passed away just six months earlier, leaving him to raise their young son alone.
“All of a sudden, a vehicle stopped in front of me and through the windscreen, I could see a man raising both hands. Momentarily, I thought I had caused an accident,” he said. The carjacker then told him to open the door and to move to the passenger seat. Before he could react, he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder. “A bullet pierced through my shoulder, through my spine, all the way to the other shoulder,” he said.
Formerly a veterinarian, Kimotho spent three months in Kenyatta National Hospital, where he was treated and discharged in a wheelchair. Kimotho believes his outcome would have been much different had he received better care. Over 20,000 people in Kenyatta are injured in road accidents each year, leaving the bare bones spinal injury wing of the hospital stretched past its abilities.
“I would like other spinal injury patients to benefit from proper treatment and rehabilitation–treatment I never got,” Kimotho said. He hopes that his efforts will help others avoid the same fate.
The Kenyan Paraplegic Organization chose Kimotho to be the face of their campaign, with the aim being to raise awareness as well as funds. The organization began a “Bring Zach Back Home” campaign, urging Kenyans to donate a Kenyan shilling, which is worth about the same as a U.S. penny. The goal of the campaign was raise 250 million Kenyan shillings to fund the treatment center (nearly $3 million in U.S. funds), saving Kimotho from having to make the unbelievable journey. During the first phase of his journey, Kimotho traveled 78 miles and raised just over $1 million.
Kimotho’s hands were covered with blisters when he interrupted his journey due to licensing issues.
“We had to stop because we had [only] applied for a fundraising license for 60 days,” he said. The Kenyan Paraplegic Organization has acquired 12 acres of land in Nairobi to build the new spinal cord injury unit. “In early September, we’ll lay a foundation with the amount raised so far for all to see how their money has been spent. Then we’ll launch phase two of the initiative,” Kimotho said.