OAKLAND, NE (May 2017) – Kitty Hoden, a registered nurse in this tiny rural northern Nebraska town, fell in love with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during a mission trip in 2014, when she visited a secondary school for young women. Now the Congo has come to her in the form of a dying baby girl.
Ticvah Matumona’s family brought their now seven-month-old daughter with severe liver disease to the U.S. in February in hopes of receiving a transplant.
Ticvah’s parents, Paulette Awetimbi and Luc Matumona, along with their six-year-old son Laël, traveled to Omaha after hearing of Nebraska Medical Center’s reputation with successful liver transplants. To pay for their plane tickets and medical visas, the family sold everything they had, raised money from fellow Congolese all over the world, and left their jobs in Congo.
Luc has since learned that a transplant of this nature could exceed $750,000, and they do not qualify for insurance or Medicaid benefits. Despite the extensive assistance the hospital has already provided to stabilize Ticvah, the hospital decided this month that they cannot perform the transplant due to the high cost and inability of the family to receive follow-up treatment in Congo.
Kitty and her husband, Steve, pastor of Salem Covenant Church in Oakland, Nebraska, learned of the sick child from a front-page news story in the Omaha World-Herald. Because of her love for Congo she felt an instant connection to the family.
Kitty had brought the newspaper along on the 60-mile drive to their daughter Laura’s home in Omaha to celebrate Steve’s birthday. The article said the family was staying at Ronald McDonald house, one block from Laura’s home. Kitty knew she had to try to meet them.
Not knowing if they would be let in to the secure building, Kitty held the newspaper up at the door and told them she’s a nurse and her husband is a pastor. They asked to meet the family.
“My goal was to just welcome this family to Nebraska, to the U.S.,” says Kitty. “They arrived in the middle of all the
travel bans this past February and I wanted to offer prayer and friendship. I wanted to listen to them and learn more about them.”
To Kitty’s surprise they were let in. She had no idea when she walked through the door what a heartbreaking journey she had begun. At that point, Ticvah was four months old and weighed seven pounds.
On the drive back home Kitty began to text information and pictures to friends with a shared interest in global
justice, healthcare, and the Congo. She asked people to pray or, if they felt led, to give a donation. By the next morning, she had collected more than $1,000 in cash.
Kitty spent the following week talking to as many people as she could, collecting donations and gifts for the family. One retired teacher at the church made up a gift basket with books and toys for six-year-old Laël.
The following Sunday, Kitty spoke at Salem Covenant Church, a congregation that is partnering with two other nearby Nebraska churches to sponsor a Paul Carlson Partnership health clinic in the DRC.
She told the church how she fell in love with the people there. “I traveled to Congo to talk to women and to see how we could help Lycée Vanette, a secondary school for young women in DRC that was funded and continues to be supported by Women Ministries,” said Kitty as she stood before her church family. “I got a lot of positive feedback after that trip. This church even supported me financially. It spurred the interest of our entire church about ministry in Congo.”
I don’t know if Ticvah will ever get a liver transplant. I don’t know. But God loves her. – Kitty Hoden
She continued, “Now it’s reversed. Now they’ve come here to Nebraska. How are we going to respond? Can we be welcoming and generous in their time of need?”
The Hodens collected well over $9,000 that Sunday and returned to Omaha to deposit the donations into an account established for Ticvah’s health expenses.
Ticvah and her family have moved into an apartment donated by an Omaha couple for the next six months. On her last visit, Kitty noted that the family is tired in every way but putting on a brave and courageous face as they choose faith, hope, and determination to obtain a new liver for their daughter.
“When I look into the now very yellow eyes of our daughter, I get an instant reminder of how stark and lethal her condition is,” says Luc, a Christian minister and former public relations professional. “How do you not fear in the face of such progressive disease in your child? But, also, how do you not believe God that he will mend this crooked path when you reminisce that he heals any sickness and raises from the dead?”
The situation is “heart-wrenching for everyone,” Taylor Wilson, a spokesman for Nebraska Medicine, told the World-Herald. “We want nothing more than to be able to help her. Ticvah and her family are in a difficult situation, and we are committed to working with them to find other transplant centers that may be able to help.”
Even if they found a hospital willing to perform the transplant, that doesn’t mean Ticvah would receive a liver. The United Network for Organ Sharing lists more roughly 40 children under a year old in the United States in need of a liver.
“I don’t know if Ticvah will ever get a liver transplant. I don’t know. But God loves her,” says Kitty. “And I’ve been called to give my time, my friendship, my resources.”
Supporters have set up a GoFundMe page.