April 18, 2004: Headlines: COS - Mauritania: Land Mines: Service: NGO's: Springfield News Leader: Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford is co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network in Washington, D.C., which has offices around the world and works for the rights of land mine survivors.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mauritania: Peace Corps Mauritania : The Peace Corps in Mauritania: April 18, 2004: Headlines: COS - Mauritania: Land Mines: Service: NGO's: Springfield News Leader: Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford is co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network in Washington, D.C., which has offices around the world and works for the rights of land mine survivors.

By Admin1 (admin) ( on Tuesday, April 20, 2004 - 5:06 pm: Edit Post

Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford is co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network in Washington, D.C., which has offices around the world and works for the rights of land mine survivors.

Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford is co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network in Washington, D.C., which has offices around the world and works for the rights of land mine survivors.

Mauritania RPCV Ken Rutherford is co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network in Washington, D.C., which has offices around the world and works for the rights of land mine survivors.

'I'm not dying'

His love of Africa and his need to help others led Ken Rutherford on a fateful trip down a dusty Somalia road.

Ken Rutherford, survivor and humanitarian

By Steve Koehler
News-Leader Staff

It's the colors Ken Rutherford remembers most from those frightening moments that cost him his legs.

The blinding brown-gray dust that filled the cabin of the truck he was riding in after it struck a powerful land mine on a remote dirt road in Somalia.

The brilliant blue sky and puffy white clouds that he found himself staring at while lying helplessly on his back after the explosion.

The red pool of blood pouring from his shattered legs.

Remarkably, 10 years later, Rutherford, now an associate professor of political science at Southwest Missouri State University, looks back at what happened to him and calls it a blessing.

"My life has changed for the better," said the 41-year-old father of four. "Everything else has been icing on the cake."

Others say they, too, have been blessed by Rutherford through the worldwide humanitarian work he has taken on since the accident:

He is a co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network in Washington, D.C., which has offices around the world and works for the rights of land mine survivors.

He is one of the world's top experts in the deadly devices, which he calls "weapons of mass destruction that move in slow motion," and is working to have their use banned and countries de-mined.

He travels around the world speaking about land mines and their horrible impact on civilians. He has rubbed elbows with high-profile supporters such as Princess Diana, singer Paul McCartney, and actors Sean Penn and Clint Eastwood.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, was one of the first to put Rutherford in the national spotlight.

After seeing Rutherford's story on a national television program, Leahy invited Rutherford to testify in Washington, D.C., in 1994 before his committee investigating land mines.

Like others who have gotten to know Rutherford, Leahy calls the professor his hero.

"He uses his disability as a gift. He tells people, 'Here's what you can do,'" Leahy said.

In love with Africa

Ken Rutherford did not live a typical teen life.

When he was 15, Rutherford's mother, who was born in Indonesia, sent him to New Guinea to help build a zoo. When he was 16, Rutherford worked on a game reserve in Kenya, then traveled the countryside by himself.

He fell in love with the land.

"There's a saying, 'No one can ever go to Africa just once. If you go once, you'll always go back,'" he said.

And he would, many times.

After graduating from the University of Colorado, where he played a little football, Rutherford eventually joined the Peace Corps in 1987, which tried to send him to places like Fiji and Paraguay.

But Rutherford passed. He wanted Africa.

The corps obliged by sending him to Africa's Mauritania, an Islamic country north of Senegal.

"I wanted to test myself," he said. "I wanted the most isolated village there was. They sent me to eastern Mauritania where there was no running water. No electricity. You maybe hear the sound of a car engine every other day."

He hung a picture of a Big Mac on his bedroom wall because "I knew I couldn't have that."

More important, he learned how to make the most of life from people who lived in a country where more than half lived in poverty and unemployment was more than 20 percent.

"It's a big reason why I don't have any bitterness or resentment in my body for losing my legs," he said.

Rutherford returned to the United States in 1989 and earned his MBA from the University of Colorado in 1992, the same year he met Kim Schwers, his future wife.

While they were dating, Rutherford joined the International Rescue Committee, founded by Albert Einstein. It provided relief and humanitarian aid to refugees and victims of oppression.

In the spring of 1993, Rutherford told his girlfriend the IRC was sending him to Somalia. He was going to use his business expertise and oversee the establishment of the first credit unions in the war-torn country.

Kim Rutherford said she wasn't thrilled about Rutherford heading off to the violent country.

"But I respected Ken. He wasn't going to sit still. I wasn't upset about being separated from him but about where he was going. His father and I tried to dissuade him from going. But I knew I had to set him free, let him go," she said.

'I messed up'

Rutherford's six-month work contract was nearly over when he started his day on Dec. 16, 1993, in Luuq, a small village west of Mogadishu, the country's capital.

Just 10 weeks earlier, U.S. soldiers had been ambushed, killed and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

Rutherford was riding out of town with a group of local councilmen to meet with a business operator who wanted to open a limestone operation.

Rutherford, a tall, athletic man and larger than most of the villagers, squeezed into the middle of the front seat of the Toyota Land Cruiser, between the driver and his friend Mohammed Duale, who sat next to the passenger door.

Three other village councilmen sat in the back seat.

Rutherford had to sit at an angle with his feet jammed into the passenger-side floorboard. It was uncomfortable, but the ride wasn't expected to take long.

Rutherford pulled out some documents to review as the truck traveled out of town.

Suddenly, the papers disappeared in a cloud of dust. He knew immediately that the truck had hit a land mine.

The explosion ripped through the vehicle, violently flinging chunks of the truck, rocks and other debris through the cabin. The front of the vehicle looked as if it had gone through an industrial-strength blender, its body and fenders turned into a twisted tangle of metal and glass.

As the dust cleared, Rutherford looked around, trying to get his bearings.

"I saw a foot on the floor. I was looking at Duale and he was looking at me for answers. I thought to myself: 'Is that his foot or mine?'" he said.

The driver and Duale, both severely injured, stumbled from the vehicle. Those in the back seat escaped unharmed.

Only Rutherford was left in the truck.

He pulled on the steering wheel to help himself slide out on the driver's side. His Boy Scout training told him to raise his legs to slow the bleeding, so he propped them up on the driver's seat.

He looked up and saw a chilling sight. He could see the bottom of his right foot even though his legs were pointed to the sky.

The foot was almost torn off at the ankle, hanging by a small flap of skin and bumping gently against his knee.

The left foot was badly damaged, too. A toe was blown off. The skin had been peeled back, exposing the many bones. There was a hole the size of a golf ball in the bottom of it.

Survival instincts took over and Rutherford tried to help himself.

With all his might, Rutherford struggled to do a sit-up so he could get closer to his dangling foot. He grabbed it and tried to balance it atop his shattered ankle a desperate attempt to somehow reattach it.

But no sooner would Rutherford collapse to the ground in exhaustion than the foot would fall off the ankle.

He tried it again. And again. Each time it flopped off, and Rutherford began to realize that he couldn't fix his foot. He couldn't stop the bleeding.

It was time to think he was dying.

"God, my legs are blown off. I was bleeding. I thought I had internal injuries because I had bit my tongue and I was bleeding from the mouth. I thought this was my last breath," he said.

"I thought to myself, 'I messed up. We're done.'"

Although he was in shock, Rutherford radioed for help, repeating over and over the truck's position, an injury report and his blood type, O positive, which he had only learned when he arrived in Somalia.

It would be 40 minutes before help would arrive.

"It seemed like a lifetime," he said.

An urgent call

Rutherford used to call Kim every few weeks from Kenya, which was not far from Luuq. A few months before the land mine explosion, Rutherford called Kim and proposed marriage.

"I asked him if at least he was on his knees when he asked," Kim said with a laugh. "We were going to get married in Kenya. Instead of a ring, he sent me an African carving and a necklace."

Rutherford was planning to call Kim the day after meeting with business owners in Luuq. But it was someone with the IRC who was calling Kim now.

Hours before the call from Africa came, Kim had a feeling something was wrong. She thinks it came to her about the same time the truck hit the mine.

"I went to bed and there was a picture in the room of Ken and his brother. I thought to myself, 'This is the man I love. What happens if something happens to him? What if I get a call?' I cried a bit and talked to myself. 'That's ridiculous,' I said to myself and went to sleep," she recalled.

The next morning, the telephone rang at the home of Rutherford's brothers in Boulder. Kim was staying there while Ken was in Somalia.

Kim answered and a voice asked for one Rutherford's brothers. They were out of town, she told the voice, which then asked for a phone number for Rutherford's parents.

There's been an accident, the IRC employee told Kim. She told the worker she would contact Rutherford's parents.

As she was leaving for their house, Kim caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror.

"It's happened," she said to herself. "It's really real."

Within 12 hours, Kim and Rutherford's father, Robert, would be on a plane flying halfway around the world to see what condition Rutherford really was in.

Flight for life

As Rutherford waited for help, he steeled himself for the possibility of dying. If he was going to die on a dusty road in Somalia, he was OK with it.

"Those were the most calm moments of my life. I was comforted by the fact that I lived the life I wanted. I wasn't there for money. I wasn't there for my girlfriend. I went there for the love of what I was attempting to do," he said.

Rutherford was ready to draw his last breath when he suddenly felt his condition change. The pain eased. He didn't feel any internal injuries.

"I thought to myself, 'I'm not dying.' Maybe I'm going to get over this. I thought of Kim. I said, 'Lord, I take everything back. I want to live.'" He vowed to marry Kim, have children and become a teacher.

Tamara Morgan, an American nurse who worked in Luuq and who knew Rutherford, found a chaotic scene when she arrived to help.

Injured passengers were strewn along the road, screaming for help. Duale lost part of a foot. A man riding a bicycle along the road when the mine exploded had lost a hand. Nearby villagers comforted them but couldn't offer medical help.

Morgan only had rudimentary medical supplies, and Rutherford, the most severely injured of them all, was in shock and losing a lot of blood.

There was no pain medicine. There was no blood to replace what Rutherford had lost.

Rutherford was taken by truck to a small, local hospital where a Ugandan doctor gave him aspirin, a natural blood thinner, which increased the blood loss. He needed better care, and he needed it immediately.

Miraculously, a supply plane was making a scheduled stop to the area when Rutherford was injured. It would be used for his flight to life.

The plane flew Rutherford and Morgan to Mandera, Kenya, where a Belgian doctor, Joris Vandelanotte, got on board with two units of blood and some pain medicine.

Because higher altitude lowers blood pressure, the pilot flew at 300 feet instead of the normal 6,000 feet, extending the typical 2?-hour flight by 90 minutes. Even so, Rutherford's blood pressure at times dropped so low he nearly died.

The two units of blood went quickly. Rutherford continued to bleed onto the floor of the plane despite the use of tourniquets. In a last desperate act, the nurse and doctor rolled up their sleeves and gave Rutherford direct transfusions from their arms to his, possibly only because Rutherford was O positive.

He slipped in and out of consciousness several times during the flight, forcing Morgan to slap him in the face to keep him awake and alive.

Once in Nairobi, a doctor there decided the right leg had to be amputated immediately. He wanted to take the left leg, too, but Rutherford fought the doctor, who agreed to wait.

"When I woke up, the right leg was gone three or four inches below the knee. It was a horrible amputation. It was like someone took a machete (to it)," Rutherford said.

His left leg was put on ice for the trip the next day to Geneva, where Rutherford would undergo three surgeries to save it, most of them to remove debris, bone and shrapnel.

Rutherford received 19 units of blood in the first 24 hours.

Kim and Rutherford's father were at the Geneva airport when Rutherford arrived. Kim wasn't allowed in until after the plane landed. She watched its descent through a chain-link fence, her mind was racing with hundreds of "what ifs."

"What if it's really bad? What if he can't have children? What if he's completely disfigured? Good God, maybe he's all blown up. Maybe he has no face," she recalled.

What she did know is that she would never turn her back on her fianc?.

Not the same guy

After nearly a week in Geneva, Rutherford was flown to Denver, where he spent three weeks undergoing several major surgeries.

Stomach muscle was transplanted into his left foot. Skin was grafted onto the bottom of it, which had bloated into a grotesque, almost unrecognizable shape with swollen toes.

When Rutherford arrived in the Denver hospital, he was greeted by some high school buddies, family and Kim.

Eventually, Rutherford asked everyone in the room but Kim to leave.

He wanted to talk to her alone. Could she love a man with no legs?

"You got engaged to a different guy," Rutherford said, looking into Kim's eyes. "I love you. I just want what's best for you. If that includes a life without me, I totally understand. Life with me will be challenging. I just want you to know you're free to go."

Kim looked at Rutherford, dressed in a hospital gown, one leg missing, the other wrapped in thick bandages, and said: "Don't ever ask me that again."

He never did.

Instead, he concentrated on his months of difficult rehabilitation that taught him how to walk with an artificial leg and a cane to support his damaged leg.

On Sept. 10, 1994, the couple was married in Boulder and Rutherford, despite his left foot half its normal size after reconstructive surgeries, walked down the aisle unassisted.

Kim said she never considered leaving or canceling the wedding after Rutherford's accident. Her thoughts were about the future.

"It was only a question of how and what do I need to do to be everything he needs to get through this," she said.

Kim and Ken Rutherford would use everything from faith and patience to sacrifice and determination to endure and overcome what lay ahead for the next 10 years.

Contact reporter Steve Koehler at skoehler@News-Leader.com.

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Story Source: Springfield News Leader

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mauritania; Land Mines; Service; NGO's



By Wanda Munoz (dyn-160-39-42-228.dyn.columbia.edu - on Sunday, February 19, 2006 - 5:48 pm: Edit Post

I'm conducting research for Handicap International on income generating activities and microfinance for landmine victims in Latin America. If any of you know of key landmine victims organizations in the region, it would be really helpful if you could let me know so I can contact them to include them in our study.
Thanks a lot!
Wanda Muñoz

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