WARNER ROBINS --
Bill Roberts had his life saved 25 years ago along the Pepper Coast of Africa, and he wasn’t even there.
He was 5,020 miles and an ocean away, working as general manager of a Holiday Inn on Chambers Road at Interstate 475 in Macon.
Bill had never been to Liberia, and he certainly had never crossed paths with an 11-year-old boy named Samuel Kolleh, who was living in a village there.
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Having been in the hotel business since 1972, Bill was accustomed to visitors. He could routinely count license plates from dozens of states in the parking lot. About this time every year, tour buses would begin arriving for the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Kolleh lived in a part of the world where visitors were rare. One day, however, a UNICEF medical team arrived in the village. Kolleh was suffering from a serious case of dysentery. He credits the medical team with saving his life.
A generation later, his suggestion saved Bill’s life, paying it forward on the other side of the world.
This is how the dots were connected.
Kolleh was so inspired by the medical team, he made the decision to become a doctor. He came to the U.S. and had his practice in Warner Robins.
One day, a new patient was referred to him for a standard physical exam. The man needed clearance to travel to Uganda on a medical missionary trip sponsored by Riverside United Methodist Church in Macon.
Kolleh reached across the table and took Bill Roberts by the hand.
“Mr. Bill,” he said. “I want to thank you for going to Africa.”
He explained how the UNICEF medical team had nursed him back to health and that he had never had the opportunity to thank the team members.
There was nothing in Bill’s physical exam that would have prevented him from going on the mission trip. He told the doctor he was leaving on June 15, 2013.
It was his 69th birthday.
Suddenly, Kolleh raised a red flag.
“Have you ever had a colonoscopy?” the doctor asked.
Colonoscopy? He might as well have been speaking a language from one of those remote Liberian villages.
No, Bill told him.
Kolleh left instructions to schedule a colonoscopy within a couple of weeks after he returned from Africa.
The medical mission trip was organized by Steve Waldorf, the senior pastor at Riverside, and his wife, Sally. Although Bill had no formal medical training, he assisted with a vision clinic to help patients with eyeglasses.
“The trip was a life-changing event for me,” he said. “Mentally, spiritually and physically.”
Bill is general manager of the Baymont Inn & Suites in Warner Robins and an active member of Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon. He has been a widower since 1997. He has two daughters and four grandchildren who call him “Pepaw.”
He became close to the children at Bwakama School in Uganda, especially a little girl he now sponsors named Auma Marcy. She was living in a mud hut with eight members of her family. He wrote about his experiences for his website (www.weradventures.shutterfly.com). He published a book of photographs of people and experiences.
After he returned to Warner Robins, he had his colonoscopy, then went for a follow-up appointment with another doctor. He took the book of photographs to show the doctor.
“I closed the book and told him I was ready for my good report,” Bill said.
There was no good report. The doctor told him he had colon cancer.
Bill was blindsided. He had considered himself to be in fairly good health. “I always thought I was invincible,” he said.
The surgery was scheduled for the following week. More than half his colon was removed. After 13 additional biopsies, he has now been declared cancer-free.
Bill said all this was “part of God’s plan.” It began 25 years ago with the UNICEF medical team. It was manifested in Kolleh’s recommendation to have a colonoscopy, which can lead to early detection of the cancer.
If you are familiar with the “butterfly effect” by best-selling author Andy Andrews, you know exactly what he means.
He can see it in his own life now. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In the past nine months, Bill has persuaded almost a dozen friends to get colonoscopies. This past Sunday, he shared his story with his Sunday School class at Mulberry Methodist. On Monday, in the waiting room for jury duty, he preached about getting a colonoscopy to a 62-year-old man sitting next to him.
How can he make a difference?
To someone out there reading, maybe he just did.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.