It was a great honor for me to have supper this evening with Margaret Lukwiya, the wife of the late Dr. Matthew Lukwiya. Dr. Matthew, which is how he was known to his patients, lost his life in his fight to contain the Ebola outbreak of 2000 in Uganda.
Dr. Matthew was a gifted student and could have chosen to work at various hospitals throughout the globe. Being from Northern Uganda however, Dr. Matthew chose to return to Lacor Hospital and serve the people of his community. In 1997 he became the superintendent of the Hospital. It was the wish of Dr. Corti and Dr. Teasdale, the founders of the Hospital, that he oversee the Hospital once they were no longer able to do so.
This was a man who worked tirelessly for his patients. If you speak to people in the community who knew him, they will tell you that he was good at what he did. So good in fact, that children and adults alike would not fear being injured citing “Dr. Matthew can fix me.”
In October of 2000, Dr. Matthew was completing a public health course in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, when he was contacted by someone at Lacor Hospital. There had been several unexplained deaths in the previous month and it was requested that he return to the hospital to offer assistance.
Dr. Matthew quickly diagnosed the cases as Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever and immediately created an isolation ward for infected patients. Nurses and hospital staff were trained on how to take precautions under such extreme conditions. Dr. Matthew led the team selflessly and with great compassion as patients and workers died at alarming rates.
In late November he began to experience his first symptoms. They increased rapidly and Margaret, who was living in Kampala at the time with their children, went to Gulu to visit Dr. Matthew. It is difficult for me to imagine her pain as she sat in an isolation ward, unable to touch her husband or even be close to him. Dr. Matthew succumbed to the sickness on December 6, 2000, less than two weeks after his symptoms first appeared.
Margaret spoke fondly of her husband at supper and told stories of their time together- both happy times as well as times of danger they faced during the war as Dr. Matthew dutifully cared for his patients. We spoke about our children and I shared with her photos and stories about my kids. She laughed at the worries I have as a mother of young children and tried to prepare me for what’s to come. Paul, one of her sons, was at supper as well. He is playing rugby now and has the scars to prove it. This is how she now spends her time worrying as a mother. Paul is currently working at Lacor Hospital as a nutritionist. I met him last year, and have spent time with him this year. I am fortunate to be able to call him a friend.
Dr. Matthew said that if he was to die of Ebola, he hoped that he would be the last health care worker to do so. This final wish of his was granted. He was the last staff member at Lacor Hospital to die in the 2000 outbreak. Out of the 425 known cases of the disease, 224 people died. This includes those who risked their lives in the fight to save others: 11 nurses, one medical assistant, and Dr. Matthew.
Dr. Matthew was laid to rest on the grounds of Lacor Hospital beside Dr.Corti and Dr. Teasdale.
An article was written about Dr. Matthew in the February 2001 issue of the New York Times. It is heartbreaking, emotional, and very relevant today. A small town in Uganda was able to contain the epidemic in a matter of months under the direction and dedication of one doctor. The recent outbreak in West Africa has taught us that this is no easy feat.
Please take 5 minutes to read this article and ensure Dr. Matthew’s legacy lives on.