For Rwandan Man In Boston, New Arms Replace Those A Father Destroyed

Greig Martino fits a new prosthetic on Patrick Mbarushimana at the United Prosthetics workshop in Dorchester. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Greig Martino fits a new prosthetic on Patrick Mbarushimana at the United Prosthetics workshop in Dorchester. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

BOSTON — In the mid-1990s, following the Rwandan genocide, clashes between government forces and mostly Hutu rebels continued along the country’s border with then Zaire. One day, soldiers came to a mud brick home in a small village and questioned a father while his young son listened.

The father denied helping rebels, but the boy, then 6 years old, said yes, some men had slept in the house the night before. The soldiers took the father away.

When the father returned a day later, “he said that he’s going to do something that I won’t forget,” recalled Patrick Mbarushimana, now 22.

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The details of Patrick’s punishment are murky. In one story that circulated through his village, the father tied Patrick by the arms to a tree. Gangrene set in before he was released. In Patrick’s memory, his father started a fire and sat on him, with his bound arms facing the blaze until rope burned through to the bone.

Patrick says his father left him to die, but he ran away to the soldiers and told them what happened. The father was arrested.

“We heard shootings within that prison,” Patrick said in a soft voice. “Immediately [the soldier] brought us to the car, taking us to the hospital.”

The soldiers told Patrick they had killed his father because if they didn’t, he would kill others.

At the hospital, doctors amputated Patrick’s right arm just below the elbow and his left arm about four inches below the shoulder. Patrick was wandering the hospital halls when a producer with CNN, Ingrid Formanek, arrived looking for survivors of a recent massacre.

“He was dirty, he was soiled, he was jumping into bed at night with patients to keep warm,” Formanek recalled. “That night I called my husband, I was upset. I said this child, we gotta do something. I don’t know why this child and not another child, but anyway, he got to me.”

Formanek partnered with Tharcisse Karugarama, a lawyer she knew at the time. Karugarama, who later became Rwanda’s minister of justice, offered to give Patrick a home.

“I provided the emotional and psychological support,” Karugarama said. “She did everything else.”

Formanek paid for Patrick’s schooling and other expenses. She ordered a set of artificial arms through the mail when Patrick was younger. They didn’t work out, but Formanek and Karugarama never gave up.

‘This Is Incredibly Amazing’

“Now I can scratch,” Patrick said after being fitted with his new arm. “This is incredibly amazing.” (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“Now I can scratch,” Patrick said after being fitted with his new arm. “This is incredibly amazing.” (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

At United Prosthetics in Dorchester, Greig Martino, grandson of the company’s founder, pounds the final rivet into a new right forearm for Patrick as he waits downstairs. The prosthetic is a brown tube that ends in tong-like, curved hooks.

“Ooo,” Patrick says after sliding the soft flesh below his elbow into the socket. He stretches the arm out several times before raising it toward his face. “Now I can scratch. This is incredibly amazing.”

Both the right arm and the left will be held on with straps that loop around the opposite shoulder. Patrick pulls against the harness, using what’s left of his arm, underarm and back muscles to extend the artificial limb. As he extends, a cable that runs through the arm tightens, pulling open the two hooks.

Martino gets a laugh out of Patrick as he adjusts the fitting of his new left arm. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Martino gets a laugh out of Patrick as he adjusts the fitting of his new left arm. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“Now can I hold you?” Patrick asks, reaching out to shake Martino’s hand. Martino obliges.

“Hello, sir,” Patrick says.

“Hello, sir,” Martino responds. “How are you?”

“Great,” Patrick says with a smile Martino returns.

A Public Disability 

Patrick, an accomplished artist, learned how to pick up a pencil with his lips and teeth, then place it between what’s left of his two arms. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Patrick is an accomplished artist. He plays soccer, sings and produces music, rides a bike, and swims. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The arms will change his life, Patrick says, although he’s surprisingly adept without them. He’s an accomplished artist, having learned to pick up a pencil with his lips and teeth, then place it between what’s left of his two arms. He plays soccer, sings and produces music, rides a bike, and swims.

Four of Patrick’s drawings. From left to right, Thabo Mbeki, Beyonce, Nelson Mandela and Akon.

Four of Patrick’s drawings. From left to right, Thabo Mbeki, Beyonce, Nelson Mandela and Akon.

But he can’t go to the bathroom by himself, bathe or get dressed, and he’s tired of having such a public disability.

“People who sees me ask me very many questions,” Patrick says. “Others, they cry.”

“Maybe sometimes I will be able to put on shirts with long sleeves, so that people won’t know, unless they see the hook, that I don’t have arms,” Patrick says, adding that he’s not ashamed of how he looks.

Patrick will probably still need help with the buttons from 18-year-old Maurice Murenzi, who’s been Patrick’s constant companion for 16 years.

Maurice Murenzi, 18, right, assists Patrick with all tasks he is unable to do. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Maurice Murenzi, 18, right, assists Patrick with all tasks he is unable to do. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“Since I met him, we became brothers,” Murenzi says.

The boys came of age after the 1994 genocide, during which 800,000 Rwandans were killed. Most of the dead were Tutsi. Most of the killing was done by Hutus. Patrick and Maurice were adopted into a home that includes Tutsis and Hutus. The young men say tribal differences don’t matter in their relationship.

A Low-Tech Solution 

Patrick writes “I love you all” on a workbench at United Prosthetics as he tests out his new arm. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Patrick writes “I love you all” on a workbench at United Prosthetics as he tests out his new arm. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“You’re keeping your chest out, like this,” says Dr. Brendan Green, modeling the stance Patrick will use to move his new left arm. This fitting is tricky. Muscles around what’s left of the 4-inch limb haven’t been used in years.

A higher tech, more robotic arm might help, but those models require regular maintenance not available in Rwanda. So for Patrick, Dr. Green and the team at United Prosthetics went in the other direction.

“This is as low maintenance as it gets,” Green says. “This prosthesis, given all the spare parts that we will give him, will last 10 to 20 years.”

“Together we will do something greater to this world, me and you,” Patrick says to Green and Martino.

“We make good team?” Martino asks. Patrick nods. “All right, brother, it works,” Martino says.

Samantha Conley, an occupational therapist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, helps Patrick get his shirt over his head. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Samantha Conley, an occupational therapist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, helps Patrick get his shirt over his head. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Three days later, Patrick is at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. The Braintree-based Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation is funding the $40,000 to $45,000 cost of Patrick’s prosthetics and rehab.

Patrick sits across a table from his occupational therapist, Samantha Conley. His black Manchester United soccer jersey lies between them.

“Can you put your head in first?” Conley asks.

Twenty minutes after he started, the shirt is stuck on Patrick’s head.

“This is a very great work,” Patrick says, breathing as if he’s just finished working out.

“Where are you?” Conley asks, laughing.

“I’m lost,” Patrick says, returning the laughter.

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

At the end of the appointment, Patrick, who’s produced a handful of songs and videos in Rwanda, delivers a gift for Conley.

“Can I rap for you?” he asks.

Patrick, holding a microphone with one hook hand, belts out “Dufatanye,” a song about “unity, let’s work together, as one.” Patrick uses the stage name Puzzle when he raps, because, he says, the whole picture of his life is not yet clear.

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Rwanda has won praise since the genocide for bringing Tutsis and Hutus together to improve the country’s health and economic well-being. But a recent Human Rights Watch report raises concerns about an increase in what it says are politically motivated detentions and disappearances.

Patrick, an incidental peace ambassador, will be in Boston for a few more weeks, spreading his message of resilience and hope.

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  • Abanyarwanda Rwandans

    I never thought that a murderer like Tharcisse Karugarama could at least do one good thing in his life. I am orphan because Karugarama exists. It is a Puzzle to read that KARUGARAMA did one good thing to someone who is not a Tutsi. Maybe it is because he wanted to make his friend Ingrid Formanek happy. Karugarama is the one who introduced the law of VASECTOMY targetting Hutu males so that they dont continue reproducing. This is in line with the RPF plans to reduce th numbers of Hutu who can participate in elections…God forbid

  • Patrick Mbarusha

    Thank you so much for wishing me a well being. I am who I am to day because of the good heart,love and grace you have on me. May god bless you always in your life and what ever you do. I love you!

  • Dave Whitty

    We had the pleasure of meeting this young man last week at Spaulding as I was at the limb loss clinic also. He asked me about my left prosthetic as I too am a bilateral upper extremity amputee. We wish you the best, you will be great in your life and bring joy and happiness to everyone you meet. I know in our brief meeting I was touched by you. I also had Sam as my OT..you are in the best hands possible!
    Dave

    • Patrick Mbarusha

      Thank you so much Dave, may god bless you.

  • Sally Tee

    Best of luck, Patrick! Do you sell your art?

    • Patrick Mbarusha

      Thanks. No, I don’t sell my art but I plan to in near future but if you want some I can give it to you or draw for you what you want.

      • Sally Tee

        It’s beautiful work. Please email me when you get the chance: sarah.dewart@gmail.com

        • Jules Justice

          I would have punished this kid myself if I was his father but burning him live wouldn’t be my choice of punishment. This shows how unhuman we are as Rwandans.
          It is surprising that the RPF killing machine also killed the poor father without justice, just by assumption that he would kill more. Without a doubt, I would assume that he was a Hutu from north.
          In the end the kid lost his arms and his father.
          Many thanks to Karugarama for his help, but when he became the minister of Justice he did little to heal the wounds of those killed by the RPF in the northern part of Rwanda and he will always regret it deep in his heart.

          • Mahoro

            Did you read the story? Where did you see “the RPF killing the poor father”. you guys will always amaze me. but we (Rwandans) stand strong.

          • Jules Justice

            I am probably 99% sure that this boy was not even burned by his father.
            He arms were amputed by the RPF killing machine during the clean out operations in Northern provinces ( Gisenyi and Ruhengeri) thru Akandoyi, they tie your arms behind your back and kill you. No way his father would be released one day after hiding abacengezi ( Hutu rebels). This poor kid is survivor of the massacre against his entire family by Kagame’s killing machine, he just doesn’t know what happened or he was forced to lie. I am sure his neighbors know the truth and one day it will come out.

      • Manzi M

        Patrick, how can I contact you? May be a film documentary on your experience.

  • nowthatithinkofit

    I will hope for great things to come from this young man, his experience and his potential capacity for leadership, modeling compassion and right action, not violence and ethnic hate. About Patrick’s companion Maurice. Many of us live life without a mission or a distinct service to others while this young man chooses a course that’s not always pretty while also very private. I don’t want to take away from Patrick’s story and the people involved in the fitting, etc, but Maurice seems to have deserved just a little more. But perhaps that’s a separate story. One worth telling.

    • Patrick Mbarusha

      Thank you so so much!. God bless you.

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