Three Child Survivors from Tanzania Bus Crash Arrive in U.S.

May 15, 2017 • Tanzania

Samaritan's Purse has responded to the East African nation's tragedy by transporting the hurting children to the U.S. for urgently needed medical care.

Sadhia arrived in Sioux City, Iowa, on May 15.


Sadhia, one of the three Tanzania bus crash survivors, arrived in Sioux City, Iowa, on May 15.

Samaritan’s Purse used our DC-8 to bring three severely injured Tanzanian children to the United States on May 14. The children are the only survivors of a terrible bus accident that killed 35 people and recently made world news. On May 15, the three were taken by two medical transport planes from Charlotte to Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa, where they are having surgeries and face weeks of therapy.

UPDATE (May 16): The children sustained 17 fractures among them, and operations have begun to repair those broken bones suffered in the crash. Additional surgeries are scheduled for the coming days. Doctors express cautious optimism about the children’s prognosis. At a morning press conference at the hospital, the mothers of the three children thanked everyone involved for all that they’ve done.

The three bus crash survivors stayed the night in Charlotte.

The three bus crash survivors stayed the night in Charlotte at Carolinas Medical Center.

Last Friday Samaritan’s Purse sent our DC-8 airplane to Tanzania to pick up the children—Wilson, a 12-year-old boy; Sadhia, a 12-year-old girl; and Doreen, a 13-year-old girl. Their mothers accompanied them on the journey, along with a Tanzanian doctor and nurse, as well as Ed Morrow, director of World Medical Mission, the medical arm of Samaritan’s Purse. They all arrived in Charlotte aboard the DC-8 late Sunday night.

“When I heard about the tragic bus accident in Tanzania and the three children who survived, I knew Samaritan’s Purse had to do everything we could to help,” Franklin Graham said.

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Before being flown to Sioux City—Doreen on one plane and Sadhia and Wilson on another—the three children briefly stayed at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. “I appreciate the Carolinas Medical Center responding quickly overnight to accommodate these children,” Graham said.

Thirty-two of the children’s primary school classmates and three adults—two teachers and the driver—were killed in a May 6 crash when their bus plunged off a gravel road into a steep ravine in remote northern Tanzania. They were on the way to another school to take an exam when the accident occurred.

Tanzania President John Magufuli called the accident a national tragedy.


God’s Hand Clearly Seen in Crash Aftermath

The three survivors of the Tanzania bus crash received much media attention before leaving their home country.

The three survivors of the Tanzania bus crash were the focus of much prayer and media attention before leaving their home country.

How the plight of the surviving children came to the attention of Franklin Graham is providential at every step and begins with three missionaries who acted as Good Samaritans at the scene of the horrifying crash. The missionaries, serving with Siouxland Tanzania Education Medical Ministries (STEMM), happened upon the accident moments after it occurred. Jumping out of their vehicle and rushing to join others already scurrying to help were Jennifer Milby, a licensed nurse practitioner; Manda Volkers, a nurse with 25 years of experience; and Kevin Negaard, the executive director of Sunnybrook Church in Sioux City.

As they pulled bodies from the wreckage, the missionaries found three children who, despite massive injuries, still had heartbeats. After stabilizing them, the missionaries helped put them into arriving ambulances, which rushed them to a local hospital.

Well wishers came out to see the three children before they left Tanzania for the U.S. aboard the Samaritan's Purse DC-8.

Well wishers came out to see the three children before they left Tanzania for the U.S. aboard the Samaritan’s Purse DC-8.

“Kevin, Jennifer, and Manda were by the sovereignty of God late by an hour and a half that morning to where they were going,” explained Dr. Steven Meyer, a Sioux City orthopedic surgeon and STEMM’s co-founder and board president. “If they had been two minutes earlier, they never would have seen it, and they never would have known about it.

“There’s no question that God put them there at that point in time,” Dr. Meyer added.

The three mothers are coming with the children to the U.S.

The three mothers accompanied their children to the U.S.

The three visited Wilson, Sadhia, and Doreen at the hospital the next day and thanked God they were alive and stabilized. But the team knew the children needed much more extensive medical care beyond what local hospitals could provide. That’s when they sensed that God wanted them to do everything they could to bring them to America. They approached Dr. Meyer and other board members who were also in Tanzania for that trip and told them of their conviction. They discussed it, prayed about it, and contacted medical personnel at the Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City as to its feasibility. They received the green light.

Now they had to receive approval from the Tanzanian government. At the same time, how would the children be transported to Iowa? Major pieces of the puzzle still had to be solved. The STEMM team prayed for God’s direction. Over the next 72 hours, His provision became clear.

God Answers Many Prayers

Ed Morrow, director of World Medical Mission, comforts one of the survivors during transport from Tanzania.

Ed Morrow, director of World Medical Mission, comforts one of the survivors during transport from Tanzania.

Lazaro Nyalandu, a STEMM co-founder and former member of Tanzania’s parliament, arranged a meeting for Dr. Meyer with Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania’s vice president. She agreed to talk with the country’s president John Magufuli.

Meanwhile, Dr. Meyer and others began contacting U.S. government officials to explore the use of a military evac plane. When those talks stalled, Rep. Steve King from Iowa’s 4th congressional district—a good friend of Dr. Meyer’s—contacted Franklin Graham. He called Dr. Meyer and offered his assistance.

Dr. Meyer was stunned by Graham’s telephone call. “When he said, ‘Dr. Meyer, this is Franklin Graham from Samaritan’s Purse, how can we help you,’ I just broke down,” Dr. Meyer said. “I sensed the hand of God on my shoulders and the Lord telling me, ‘Take a deep breath, this is going to happen, I’ve got this.’”

Ed Morrow helps guide one of the patients onto the plane in Tanzania.

Ed Morrow, director of World Medical Mission, is present as one of the patients boards the DC-8 in Tanzania.

Within 30 minutes, a Samaritan’s Purse disaster response team was assembled and rushed into action—gaining special clearances from the FAA to allow two flight crews to fly the plane 24 hours nonstop.

At a heartrending memorial service in Tanzania for the 35 who were killed, tens of thousands attended. Vice President Hassan recognized the efforts of the American missionaries and thanked them. Then she said that her government would assist in every way possible in the transport of the three surviving children to America and back again. God provided once more.

And so that’s how the Samaritan’s Purse DC-8 aircraft brought these injured children to America for trauma care. “We are so grateful for Mercy Medical Center Sioux City providing the medical care they need,” Graham said. “I believe God has a plan for these children, and we are praying for their recovery.”

“I believe God has a plan for these children, and we are praying for their recovery.”—Franklin Graham

Dr. Meyer anticipates the children will be in Sioux City for a couple of months. Following their surgeries, the children will receive physical therapy as well as counseling to help them recover emotionally and psychologically. While there, they and their mothers will stay at the homes of local residents, who have opened up their arms and embraced these families.

Lazaro Nyalandu, a STEMM co-founder, visited the crash victims.

Lazaro Nyalandu, a STEMM co-founder, visited the crash victims in Tanzania.

Nurse practitioner Jennifer Milby expressed her gratefulness to Samaritan’s Purse after a press conference at Mercy Medical Center on May 15: “Samaritan’s Purse has made it possible to medically evacuate these children from Tanzania and bring them all the way here to Sioux City, Iowa, so they can get appropriate medical and surgical care to fix their multiple fractures as well as their mental and emotional wounds they will be trying to overcome over the next several months.”

Kevin Negaard, who is also an athletic trainer, spoke with Samaritan’s Purse staff after the same press conference and gave credit to God for how things have worked out. “God’s carrying us,” he said. “The miracles we saw, the timing of things, and people coming into the picture at the time we needed somebody—you just know that God’s there and in charge of everything and taking care of us through it.”

Kevin Negaard with Wilson after arriving in Sioux City, Iowa.

Kevin Negaard quickly reunited with Wilson upon Wilson’s arrival in Sioux City, Iowa.

Dr. Meyer, who committed his life to Jesus Christ 21 years ago while attending an open-air meeting in Hong Kong, offers an important perspective on how these events have affected Tanzanians: “The entire country of Tanzania is going viral with this story.

“It’s been baffling to many Tanzanians, some of whom are Muslims, why these Americans were willing to help save these children. It’s been a ray of light in this tragic event where God gave us a tremendous opportunity to share Jesus’ love and to help them understand what the Gospel really means.”

Please pray for the health and wellbeing of these children and the doctors who will be treating them. Pray that many will be drawn to Jesus Christ through these circumstances and events.

This story was first published on May 14 and revised due to unfolding events on May 15.

Wilson smiles before leaving Tanzania on his way to Charlotte and eventually Sioux City, Iowa.

Wilson smiles before leaving Tanzania on his way to Charlotte and eventually Sioux City, Iowa.

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Rescue Children in Crisis Samaritan's Purse seeks to bring physical and spiritual relief to children in crisis who have no place else to turn. Sometimes this means helping those with serious medical conditions. Also, in places like Egypt, India, and Haiti, we partner with local Christians who protect helpless children and rescue them from exploitation. For $75, your gift can bring can help bring peace, health, and comfort into the lives of little ones who have suffered much. "But Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven'" (Matthew 19:14).

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