Mika’s Story: Medical Evacuation in Mokndoma

Mika, a six-year-old boy from the highland village of Mokndoma in Papua, Indonesia, fell from a tree while climbing with his friends. He landed on a branch which punctured his abdomen, leaving splinters and chunks of wood inside. With no doctors or nurses in the remote village, missionaries Tim and Rebecca Ingles provide the only medical help available. They made a Skype call to Tim’s sister, a doctor in Canada, for advice. They made an incision in Mika’s abdomen, but were unable to remove the wood which was lodged deeper than they felt comfortable exploring. Tim contacted MAF to ask if an emergency medical evacuation flight could be arranged.

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Mokndoma is a remote village nestled in the rugged mountains of Papua’s interior at 6,700 feet elevation. Many of the Wano people who live there still dress in traditional clothing and their surroundings are relatively untouched by the outside world. About six months ago, the people completed building an airstrip to allow MAF and others to land, opening up the village to shipments of food, medicine, and other supplies.

A supply flight to the nearby airstrip of Bina was already scheduled for later in the week, but after receiving Tim’s call, MAF set to work attempting to rearrange the schedule. With the risk of infection and possible internal injury, two days could make all the difference. Mike Brown, one of only three MAF pilots approved to land at the new airstrip, was available to fly and prepared to leave for Mokndoma the next morning.

At 6:30am the next day, Mike made the hour and 15-minute flight from the MAF base in Sentani to Mokndoma. We were able to ride along to help capture the story. Seats were removed from the back of the plane so Mika could lay down comfortably during flight, and he was harnessed safely with cargo straps. Before taking off, Mike prayed with the Ingles family for a safe flight and recovery for Mika. Tim accompanied Mika and his mother to Sentani, since they had never been outside of Wano territory before, and can’t speak Indonesian.

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Those prayers were soon put to the test. The last twenty minutes of the flight required flying through turbulent weather and a heavy rainstorm over Sentani threatened to make landing impossible. Mike continued on after talking with the tower and MAF staff on the ground, and decided to make an instrument approach. The clouds gave way, revealing the runway lights below, and Mike was able to land safely.

Libby Wild, another missionary from Mokndoma who is currently living in Sentani, was waiting with a car to transport Mika, his mother, and Tim to the hospital. One of MAF’s national workers held an umbrella as Tim carried Mika through the rain to the car.

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On arriving at the hospital, x-rays were taken, IV treatment and medication was started, and Mika’s situation was determined to not be urgent. But around 8pm that night, Tim received a phone call from the doctor, who had just reviewed the x-rays. The wood had pierced both sides of Mika’s small intestine and toxins were leaking into his abdominal cavity. They needed to operate immediately. Tim gave his approval and rushed to the hospital on his motorbike.

The two-hour surgery was successful, and the doctor removed the pieces of wood and fluids from Mika’s abdomen. If they had waited until Friday’s supply flight to bring him out, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have survived.

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Mika after surgery (Photo by Tim Ingles)

Mika spent the next few days in the hospital, hooked up to IVs and tubes. Tim kept us updated on Mika’s progress and captured some photos and video of him in the hospital. By the end of the week, he had recovered enough to be released and spent the night at the Wilds’ home in Sentani. This was a trip of many firsts for him and his mother – their first flight in an airplane, first ride in a car, first time using a cell phone, and countless others. Tim and Libby were there to provide translation, transportation, and help navigating all of those firsts.

While Mika was recovering at the Wilds’ home, Libby was surprised to see his mother crying – an unusual display of emotion in Wano culture. It turns out she was not crying for her son, but for her husband, who had died from malaria just two weeks ago. Mika’s story could have ended in tragedy as well, but thanks to the dedication and quick action by the missionaries, doctors, pilots, and everyone else involved, his will have a happy ending.

A few days later, we walked across the street to the MAF hangar in Sentani to Tim, Mika, and his mother board the plane to take them home to Mokndoma. He will continue receiving medicine and recovering in the village, and he’ll soon be back to climbing trees and playing with his friends.

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