M Health Fairview operating room nurse Mohamed Jama Mohamed spent nearly three decades searching for the person who changed his life.
In the summer of 1991, Mohamed was a 24-year-old Somali refugee in Kenya with no papers, no knowledge of the local language and severe, painful burns over much of his body.
Nurse Florence Lintari went out of her way to make life easier for Mohamed. He never forgot her kindness.
This summer, he finally got the chance to say thank you.
"Some people may say, 'Mohamed, it's not that big [a] thing that Florence did,'" Mohamed said. "But what she has done was, it was how she made me feel. She made me feel human again."
Mohamed had a peaceful childhood growing up in Somalia. He got a job working for the country's agricultural department as a young adult. That all changed in 1991, when the Somali civil war escalated.
On Feb. 1, 1991, Mohamed was visiting a friend who asked him to help pour gasoline into containers to keep in reserve, as having enough resources was not guaranteed during the conflict. They were inside the house when someone walked in with an open flame, unaware of what they were doing.
"Everything exploded," Mohamed said. "It was very quick, very sudden, very shocking. I couldn't see the door, the window."
The flames rose into the air, so Mohamed's legs and waist weren't affected. But his torso, arms, neck and face were burned.
Two months in the hospital
They were more than 40 miles from Kismayo, the closest big city, where Mohamed could receive medical attention. The two hitched a ride in a pickup truck going toward the city.
Mohamed spent two months in Kismayo. The hospital there had turned into a refugee camp but he was able to find doctors to help him. Still, the only thing he could use to protect his wounds was a veterinary tissue adhesive.
Two months later, with the war intensifying, Mohamed found his way onto a cargo ship set for Kenya. He soon made his way to Isiolo to finally receive proper treatment for his wounds.
"I don't know anybody," Mohamed said of his journey to Isiolo. "I don't have any papers. I [was] just traveling alone by myself. I have a little bag with a few clothes in it."
Paying it forward
He met Lintari on his first day at the Isiolo hospital. When she realized he did not speak the local language, she took him to the TV room so he could watch TV and have something to occupy his mind.
Every day, Lintari checked on Mohamed in the morning and then brought him to the TV room. She offered him a variety of fruits and got his hospital fees removed.
When Mohamed was discharged after three months — in significantly better shape — Lintari took him to her home for a goodbye cup of tea. On the walk, Mohamed asked Lintari a question:
"You don't know me. I'm from Somalia. You're Kenyan. We don't speak [the] same language. You have a different culture. What makes you to go that extra step to helping me out?"
"Florence answered, 'I believe if I do good, I will get good.'"
That answer stayed with Mohamed as he went back to Nairobi and even when he moved to the United States as part of a refugee resettlement program. Interested in the medical field, he earned a bachelor's degree from Metropolitan State University and started working at M Health Fairview in 2001.
Mohamed has also started his own non-profit, the Healthcare Extension, Promotion and Training Organization (HEPTO). The mission is to help bring health care supplies and top-notch training to countries in Africa, such as Somalia and Kenya.
Dr. Greg Beilman,M Health's senior vice president of acute care operations, has worked with Mohamed for 20 years. He calls Mohamed a caring and competent nurse who thrives at keeping a calm environment.
"He's an important part of the team and somebody that, especially our younger colleagues, look up to and learn from," Beilman said
After coming to the United States, Mohamed begin to tell his story to anyone he met, hoping that one day someone would be connected to Lintari.
It took nearly 30 years, but he finally hit the lottery this summer when a friend's sister came to his house. The sister was a nurse in the Isiolo hospital and, within a day, she managed to track down Lintari's phone number.
Mohamed gave her a call through WhatsApp. When she didn't pick up, he sent her a text. The two soon began texting back and forth. They quickly formed a friendship and, in August, Mohamed visited Lintari in Kenya.
Lintari recently retired from her work as a nurse. By the end of Mohamed's trip, she agreed to help him with HEPTO.
What started out 30 years ago as a simple act of compassion has spread further than anyone could imagine. And even though Mohamed has finally had the chance to say thanks to Lintari, he is not done spreading the goodness she planted in him.
"I always carry the torch of kindness that Florence handed me," Mohamed said, "to my work, to my profession, to my co-workers and to my friends, too."
Freelance writer Peter Warren is a frequent contributor to Inspired.