‘My jaw was shattered. My face, head and chest had severe cuts. I felt I was already dead. It hurt my self-esteem severely and I lost the will to work.”
This is how Kisumu Town West MP Olago Aluoch recalls the grisly accident he was involved in more than a decade ago.
Two fighting donkeys suddenly dashed onto the road, and Olago’s driver, Vincent Omwala Oloo, could not brake in time. The car hit the two animals before rolling several times. “Terrible” is how the MP describes the crash.
“We were travelling from the Kisii High Court, where I had gone to represent a client, to Kisumu. The accident occurred along the Oyugis-Sondu road,” he says.
This was on a Monday morning in February 2001, just a year after Olago’s wife, Pamela Aluoch, died in another road accident near Ahero Town in Kisumu County. She was driving from Kericho to Kisumu.
“Pamela was a high school principal and was driving from work. An oncoming bus pushed her car off the road and she died on the spot,” he recalls.
Olago and his driver were lucky enough to survive their car crash, but they lay on the roadside for almost an hour. Passers-by and villagers refused to take them to any nearby health facility for fear that police officers would engage them in recording lengthy statements about the incident. However, all was not lost.
“Coincidentally, the previous day, I had attended the burial of a relative in the area where we were stranded. So, when the area chief heard that there had been an accident and came to the scene, he identified me,” Olago recalls.
Oloo, the driver, only sustained slight injuries. (Sadly, he was killed by hooligans a few years later, in January 2008, as Kenya was undergoing post-election violence following the December 2007 polls.)
The Oyugis chief organised villagers to stop the first car that came by so that the injured men could be taken to hospital.
“Luckily, the first car to arrive was that of fellow lawyers I had left in Kisii. They took us to Agha Khan Hospital in Kisumu, where I received treatment,” the legislator says.
But it was not a simple dash into the emergency room for some painkillers and bandages. Olago had extensive injuries, especially in his head and chest, and he had to remain in the Intensive Care Unit for seven days.
“My jaws were locked for 30 days. During this time, I was only fed on liquid foods,” he recalls.
The accident, and its aftermath, affected Olago’s perception of life and affected his career. Coping was difficult, especially after having lost his wife only a year earlier.
His discharge from hospital marked neither the end of his treatment, nor the cessation of physical and mental anguish. For starters, his face embarrassed him and he had to consult a number of friends for advice.
“What remained of my face was seriously deformed. It hurt my self-esteem in the worst possible way, and I lost the desire to engage in litigation. At one point, I told Justice (John) Mwera that I was leaving the profession, but he encouraged me to hang on,” Olago remarks.
What Justice Mwera told him still lingers in his mind and has made him remain steadfast in his career as a lawyer: “What you will be saying in the courts is more important than your face.”
From experience, Olago advises that when one has been in an accident, the importance of love, care and encouragement from friends and family members cannot be overstated.
“My current wife, Susan Aluoch, and my children have stood by me. Susan has been supportive, caring and loving, regardless of the state of my face, for more than a decade,” he says.
Ten months after the accident, Olago returned to Aga Khan Hospital for reconstructive surgery to stop the twitching of one of his eyes and prevent the possibility of loss of sight.
He went for two more surgeries in Switzerland in 2008 and 2009, after he had clinched the Kisumu Town West seat. The treatment cost more than Sh7 million, and he is grateful that he had insurance cover
“I was to go back to Switzerland for a fourth surgery, but Susan refused. My wife said I was now looking okay and she would live with me the way I looked. When someone is in the operating room for hours, you can’t tell whether he will come back alive, and that scares her,” he says.
And how have his children reacted to these ups and downs?
Olago tells a story of his last-born daughter, Audrey, who was by then in kindergarten. The three-year-old accompanied family members to Nairobi to see her father in hospital when he went for one of his surgeries. Back in Kisumu, her teachers had a programme where, every Monday, pupils would tell the rest of the class their experiences over the weekend.
“When she went back to school and was asked about her weekend, she told the teachers that she went to see her sick father in Nairobi,” Olago says.
“When asked what was ailing me, my daughter had a funny answer: He has gone to hospital so that he can look like us. The shocked teachers contacted me, and helped the other children understand what Audrey was trying to say.”
Not every experience has been so amusing though. When travelling outside the country, the MP admits that many dignitaries look alarmed the first time they meet him.
“They don’t believe I am the person they have heard about. But when they ask what happened to my face, and I tell them about the accident, they sympathise with me, and we move on to the matters that brought us together,” he remarks.
However, Olago confesses that the accident has changed his way of looking at the society. He has become more aware, and understanding, of people with disabilities: “I have a soft spot for them. I understand that this is something that can happen to anyone at any time. We should not look down on anybody because of their physical limitations.”
This father of six also has something to say about the many cases of road accidents in Kenya: “People should work together in road maintenance, everyone must obey traffic rules and drivers must be trained properly if we want to prevent these unnecessary crashes, injuries and deaths.
“It is not about police officers only. It should involve everybody. Trauma centres should be created along the major highways and night driving should be introduced in our driving schools.”
His parting shot: “ I am still strong. What matters is my brain, not my face.”