Atlanta, GA,
09:08 AM

Community Comes Together to Bring Kenyan Pastor to Shepherd Pathways

The Rev. Martin Mwangi spent three months in a coma and was unable to speak for 13 months following a car accident in January 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya. He lost his sense of balance, had double vision and experienced outbursts of violence and extreme anxiety.

His progress during rehabilitation in Kenya was so minimal that family and friends – many of them in Atlanta where he had done post-graduate studies – feared he might never recover. Their concern became an impromptu community of people dedicated to his rehabilitation; they formed Team Martin.

“Martin is among the best preachers on any continent and the most gifted pastor I ever met,” says the Rev. Scott Weimer, pastor at North Avenue Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. “He’s dynamic and charismatic.”

Scott met Martin several years ago when the Kenyan pastor came to study at Columbia Theological Seminary in nearby Decatur, Ga. Their friendship grew, and Martin invited Scott to Kenya for a pastoral visit. Later, Martin and his wife, Margaret, hosted Scott’s son, Justin, when the young man did service work in Kenya.

“To have someone in another country take in our son cemented our friendship,” Scott says. “It’s a bond that can never be broken.”

Alarmed that Martin’s rehabilitation was lagging, Scott called Shepherd Center co-founder Alana Shepherd. She referred him to the hospital’s admissions office, and Team Martin eventually involved three Atlanta Presbyterian churches, as well as the seminary. Time and again, Team Martin encountered circumstances that, Scott says, “seemed crazy and impossible and then began to seem possible.”

An American visiting Kenya brought Martin’s medical records to Atlanta and helped expedite his referral to Shepherd Center. Initial fundraising generated $12,000 that was used to finish building an accessible home for Martin and Margaret.

Another $25,000 funded Martin’s treatment. People in his village of Kiambu raised $5,000 for airline tickets, and a Kenyan man living in Atlanta accompanied them on the trip.

“It seemed like a wild idea to bring him here,” Scott says. “But every time we brought something up, people said ‘yes.’ They wanted to be a part of it. It was amazing. And Shepherd was wonderful. Their generosity took my breath away.”

Martin and Margaret didn’t know what to expect when they arrived in late June 2013. “We were hopeful because we knew your medical care was far ahead of our country,” Martin says.

Irene Pennington, Martin’s case manager at Shepherd Pathways, says Martin’s speech was fast and almost impossible to understand. He had double vision, a difficult time walking and was timid and fearful. He had come to rely on Margaret for everything, she notes.

Once he began working with physical, occupational, speech and recreation therapists, the change was almost immediate.

“After a week, there was a change in his speech,” Margaret says. “Everyone could hear it. And he continued to improve steadily. Also, there were gradual changes in his walking and standing, too. The therapy at Shepherd Pathways was really specialized and focused, and the therapists were very positive and friendly. They gave him a lot of hope.”

Surgery on his eyes, as well as new eyeglasses, restored his vision. Counseling with a psychologist helped Martin and Margaret understand the nature of his injury and cope with their fears.

“Martin was always motivated, always so polite and always had a great attitude,” Irene says. “He was always giving thanks and had a big smile on his face. It was wonderful working with him.”

Meanwhile, Team Martin divided into four groups and took turns helping with daily duties, such as providing transportation and meals for Martin and Margaret. The seminary provided them with free housing.

Cynthia Weimer, Scott’s wife and a member of Team Martin, says she often heard Martin saying, “God is good.” And after receiving yet another act of kindness from Team Martin, he would turn to Margaret and say, “We’ve got to get ‘thank you’ notes.”

Irene adds:  “What makes his story so amazing is the circle of support he had. I interacted with Team Martin multiple times a week. They made sure Martin had everything he needed, and they kept asking ‘How can we help?’ It shows you what is possible with the right effort and community involvement. Martin made tremendous gains, and they will continue.”

When he was discharged from Shepherd Pathways at the end of August 2013, Martin was a changed man. His speech was much improved, his posture was better, he was using a walker, and he could dress himself and attend to his personal hygiene.

The graduation ceremony from Pathways was emotional. Martin and Margaret were in tears, as were some of the therapists. “We were so close to the therapists that we felt we were leaving behind part of our family,” Margaret says.

And the story isn’t over. Martin was given an iPad that will enable him to stay in touch with his therapists at Pathways, and he plans to return in May 2014 to continue his rehabilitation.

“This has been like a miracle that happened to us,” Margaret says, “and we want this miracle to happen for others at home. Martin wants to start a hospital in Kenya just like Shepherd Center.”

Since returning to Kenya, Martin continues to improve. He has resumed his physical therapy, learned to feed himself easily and walks four miles a day.

“Our memories of Shepherd Center are very fresh,” Margaret wrote in email on October 23. “To us, it is home far away from home.”

Written by John Christensen
Photography by Louie Favorite

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.