Heroic Effort Enables Paralyzed Patient to Reunite with Family

Team effort helped show the love of Jesus in action, Adventist hospital leaders said.

Julie Busch, for Lake Union Herald
Heroic Effort Enables Paralyzed Patient to Reunite with Family
Team members at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Bolingbrook lined the hallways to cheer on Ali Kaba as he departed the hospital. [Photo: UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Bolingbrook]

When physicians unfamiliar with Ali Kaba walked past his inpatient room at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Bolingbrook near Chicago, Illinois, United States, they initially assumed he must have many family members who lived nearby and visited him regularly, because flowers and balloons often adorned his room. 

Those physicians eventually learned that quite the opposite was true. Ali, a native of Ghana who had been in the US for a couple of years, was very much alone, with only one relative in the country and most of his family members in Ghana.

But he did have an adoptive family — the hospital’s staff. During a hospital stay that lasted more than a year, “they went above and beyond, taking care of him like he was their own family member,” Mushtaq Mohammed, a hospitalist who cared for Ali, said. 

Ali, a cab driver, entered the hospital in Chicago’s western suburbs on June 25, 2022, after going into cardiac arrest following a heart attack at his home. By the time he was found, taken to the hospital and revived, a lack of oxygen had caused a massive brain injury, leaving him cognitively impaired and unable to speak or move his arms or legs. He spent more than 100 days in the intensive care unit, requiring ventilator care, a tracheostomy, and a feeding tube. He later underwent a colostomy when his bowels stopped working. “He went through a lot,” Mohammed said. “He was totally dependent.”  

Ali was also uninsured and lacked other resources to pay for his care, which eliminated home care and nursing-home care as options for ongoing care needs. Reflecting UChicago Medicine AdventHealth’s mission of Extending the Healing Ministry of Christ, the hospital decided to provide his care as charity care, while team members “took him in as our own,” said Kim Gillette, director of care management at the Bolingbrook facility and UChicago Medicine AdventHealth GlenOaks in Glendale Heights, Illinois. “He was our family, and we were his. We cared for him compassionately, and we celebrated him.” 

Staff members talked to Ali, played music for him, and sang to him. They kept his room bright and festive with flowers, balloons, and cards. They celebrated his 62nd birthday by decorating his room and singing to him. They prayed at his side, and at Christmas time they put up a Christmas tree and played Christmas music for him. They regularly shaved him, cut his hair, and clipped his nails. “That’s usually not part of medical care, but our staff did it,” Mohammed said. “It gave him a smile.” 

Their willingness to provide such care stemmed from their commitment to UChicago Medicine AdventHealth’s mission and “their passion for taking care of our patients,” Mohammed said. “Life is in God’s hands, and we are just helpers. Christ is next to us, and we extend His healing ministry. We help each other through this life, and this case is a perfect example.”

Gillette added, “Knowing that Jesus cared for the afflicted, the abandoned, the poor, and the needy, we took care of Ali the best that we could.” 

Evidence of the high level of care provided to Ali included the fact that he never developed bedsores during his time in the hospital. “He did not have a single skin breakdown, not a single wound,” Mohammed said, noting that staff members regularly adjusted his position in bed and got him out of bed to sit in a recliner. 

While staff members focused on providing the highest quality wholistic care for Ali, Gillette worked behind the scenes to reunite him with his family in Ghana, who wanted to take care of him but did not have the resources to bring him home. This goal became more achievable when Ali’s condition stabilized, and he became alert months into his stay. In April 2023, Gillette attended the national conference of the American Case Management Association, hoping to connect with medical transport companies exhibiting there. Gillette said she found a company she thought “would care for Ali as much as we did,” and in the months that followed, she worked closely with the company on travel arrangements. She also won approval from UChicago Medicine AdventHealth for the system to cover Ali’s travel costs. 

On July 16, 2023, Mohammed, Gillette, and others who had cared for Ali gathered in his room to bid him farewell before an ambulance took him to O’Hare International Airport for a flight to Dubai, the first leg of a three-day journey back to Ghana. “It was wonderful,” Gillette said. “Even staff members who weren’t working came in to say goodbye.” During the gathering, Mohammed called Ali’s brother in England and put him on speaker phone. Still paralyzed and connected to a breathing tube, Ali could hear his brother say, “Ali, you’re going home,” a message echoed excitedly by those in the room. “Ali was more alert than ever, and his eyes got wide,” Gillette said. “He knew.”  

Ali Kaba was transferred to the hospital in Ghana via medical transport, where he arrived in stable condition and was reunited with his family members. [Photo: UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Bolingbrook]

As Ali was wheeled on a stretcher through the hospital and to the waiting ambulance, hospital staff lined the hallways, honoring him by cheering, applauding, and singing. Gillette and others shed some tears.

“Everybody was happy for him that he was going home, yet sad because he was going so far away and we were going to miss him,” she said. “It was really bittersweet. We said goodbye to a member of our family, but we knew he had to go back to his actual family to find peace.” 

The medical transport company later reported that Ali had tolerated the trip to Ghana well and was still alert and in stable condition when he arrived at a hospital in his hometown. Photos showed him reunited with family members.

But a week later, Ali’s brother messaged Gillette with the stunning news that Ali had died. When she shared the news with her staff, more tears were shed. “We didn’t think he would die so soon,” she said. “We thought it might happen in six months or a year. We were all sad he didn’t get to spend more time with his family.” 

As shocking as Ali’s death was for staff members, it could not detract from the heroic team effort, including thousands of staff hours, that went into caring for him and getting him back to his family. “What I’ll remember is the way we all worked together to take care of Ali’s needs and his family’s needs,” Gillette said. “God’s spirit was with us and helped us focus on Ali and what was needed to get him home. It was all hands on deck, and everybody worked together to do the right thing.” 

After Ali died, his caregivers took solace in knowing they had helped him reunite with his family. “Maybe that’s what he was waiting for all along — just to see those familiar faces from his past,” Gillette said. His caregivers also found comfort in a text message to them from Ali’s brother in England. The message said: “The family members are all aware of your kindness to him, and we still remember you in our prayers.” 

The original version of this story was posted by the Lake Union Herald.

Julie Busch, for Lake Union Herald