Cover Story

Serving a God of miracles

"Serving a God of miracles" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 18, 2010

Whatever the setting, Bransford has fought antagonists outside the womb as well: heads of families ready to leave disabled children to die; UN refugee camp bureaucrats who refuse to process sick or war-injured children for treatment; donors ready with grant money but not for "elective surgery" to correct childhood disabilities; or Islamic militias in Sudan and elsewhere who make more work for him by raping and maiming Christian women and girls.

In Sudan he rescued one orphaned baby he found beside her mother, dead of gunshot wounds, and carried her through border control at Nairobi's airport without incident. He flew to Kijabe a mother named Mary, arms burned so badly by Islamic militias raiding Christian villages in south Sudan that she could not move them beyond 45-degree angles. Surgery made them mobile again.

"Dick is one of those rare and special people who seem to live outside of the world's structures of propriety and prudence," said Mike Delorenzo, a pilot who has accompanied Bransford into war zones. "He will go places few doctors would consider sensible, and while other docs were eating dinner, Dick would just be getting started on one of two club feet."

In Somalia during the 1993 civil war, Bransford and a colleague stepped in to fill the gap in medical care. "When we arrived in Mogadishu there were three machine-gun nests run by the U.S. Marines across the street from what was a theater. We'd see 300-400 patients a day onstage there."

As word got around that these were Christian physicians, Bransford began to receive vague threats. "We have less than 100 Christians here and if we find them we will shoot them in the street," a Somali told him. After the medical team departed, Bransford learned that his translator was found shot dead in the street.

Oddly enough, those wartime experiences stirred a longing to serve Muslims. "Muslims are not won by argument, but by compassionate care," he learned. And some of the most provocative conversations he has in Islamic-dominated countries take place over the operating table or at bedside: "When I walk into the pediatric ward and see the multitude of disabled children, He gives me a compassionate, and passionate, heart to first care for them in Christ's name and to seek the means of being able to share Christ."

Bransford first came to Africa as a medical student in 1966. He wound up at Kijabe, a small mission hospital run by Africa Inland Mission (AIM). "If you closed the front door and put beds in front of the door, you'd get 55 beds," he said. The hospital had one doctor, and nurse midwives were delivering babies in a closet.

He returned to the United States to complete surgical training, served in the Air Force, then joined AIM, and headed back to Africa-first to then-Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo), then to the Comoros Islands. There, only four years out of surgical training, he became chief of surgery at a 350-bed hospital.

By the time he returned to Kijabe in 1977, Bransford was a husband and father of five children. His wife Millie, now married to Bransford 45 years, had just delivered twins. The couple would later adopt two disabled African boys-one now in high school and the other a freshman in college.

The two largest killers at the hospital then were measles and whooping cough. Today those have been replaced by HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Bransford began a practice then of never turning away a patient because the family couldn't pay, but he says he often was offered payment in cows.

Bransford praises his general surgery training at the University of Nebraska, which he said was not as rigorous as Johns Hopkins, where he went to medical school, but where "I could live with my own soul because they treated people as people." But driven by need-"and not because I knew what I was doing but because I could read the books"-he began doing more and more orthopedics.

A visit to Kajiado Child Care Center, a school near Nairobi, shaped his vision for working full-time with the disabled. "There were 75 kids, and at least 50 had polio," Bransford recalled. He couldn't walk away from them, so he began devising ways to transfer the polio victims to Kijabe.

"That was the beginning. Polio led to clubbed feet, and clubbed feet led to bad burns needing surgery to prevent contractures. These children were worthless to families because they couldn't herd goats and cows. So worthless, we discovered, they could be educated."

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