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Dorothy Nabuule - A sorrowful farewell

This has been an immensely difficult piece to write - which is why this sad announcement is now two months overdue.

Several weeks ago in early September we were contacted from Uganda telling us that Dorothy Nabuule had died.

We first met Dorothy (while training her to teach her patients how to use moxa) during our second trip to Uganda in 2010. Soon afterwards we were told she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and (truth be told) we didn't think we'd ever see her again.

But when the Ugandan moxa-TB RCT started in Kampala two years later she miraculously resurfaced, specially selected as part of the clinical team - and announced that she was cured! During the duration of the ensuing study, she was a rock both to the patients and to us (and moreover was still the same rock the last time we were in Uganda with the Japanese NHK TV film crew).

She was not only the most clinically experienced and expert member of the Kiswa clinic team, she was always ever-patiently kind but also firm with the patients whoever they were (we never saw her shout at any of them as some were inclined to do out of frustration).

If there were streptomycin injections to be done on MDR-TB cases, she was always the one to do them (we filmed her doing this once, intra-muscularly jabbing a stoic young MDR-TB infected policewomen with 'strepto' in her bum - as she was doing to her 5 days a week for at least 4 months).

I should add that she also saved me twice from what could have been VERY embarrassing stomach upsets by foraging for some special herbs she knew from the waste ground behind the clinic and then making me tea from them (loaded with sugar, of course). And I can gratefully confirm that both times they did the trick…

Let’s just say we were especially fond of Dorothy, not just for her humanity but also for her humour. She was also a devout Christian but was scrupulously indiscriminate in her compassion for anyone of any faith.

Earlier this year she wrote telling us that she was suffering from nasty stomach problems. First of all she blamed it on chemicals in some milk she'd drunk (which the doctors had told her was the cause), but then later on she told us that it was actually abdominal TB (which is not just very difficult to treat in Uganda, but also tricky even to diagnose). The truth is that we’re still not completely sure what the illness was but it was unquestionably causing her real suffering (the week before she died she sent us a desperate photo in which her suffering was especially visible). If it really was extra-pulmonary TB (as seems likely) her death seems especially tragic given how hard she worked helping those with much simpler pulmonary TB at Kiswa TB clinic for so many years.

Dorothy was a truly exemplary modest but inspirational soul who lived a hard life without complaint. She'd lost her husband when her only son, Paul, was quite young (we never asked what he died from) and she brought him up alone in a small unassuming house in the country some miles outside Kampala (the photo above was taken outside it). Including walking a mile to the nearest main road to pick up transport, she was easily commuting two hours a day to get to work (with two journeys each way packed into Toyota minibuses with everyone else, some of which, of course would have inevitably contained someone with infectious tuberculosis) – with the same story again going home. She must have been made of strong stuff to keep going, but it all gave out in the end.

If we were ever spent time together socially, she would be drinking a 'Stoney', the local brand of ginger beer. We are terribly sorry to be sharing this sad news and hope it does something to honour the departure of a special soul from this troubled world. We just hope they had some sweet and tasty Stoney to welcome her with up there in heaven.

Thank you, Dorothy for touching our hearts and for helping so many TB patients. We won't forget you.


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