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  • Writer's pictureREI

The Best-Laid Plans Don’t Include COVID-19 Emergency Evacuation

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

By Ron Wiley, Country Leader, Central Asia

Safely back at last with the Colorado Wiley clan

Dr. Ron and Jeanine Wiley wrapped up their first semester at the Kazakh-American Free University in early June and then boarded a plane for Uzbekistan. They anticipated a whirlwind ten days with potential REI partners, some sightseeing, then a quick stop in Kazakhstan before flying back to family in the U.S., getting the COVID-19 vaccination, and attending a REI leadership meeting in Colorado. They never dreamed that a minor infraction of a COVID-19-related regulation would interrupt their travels, resulting in detention in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s airport and deportation to Kyrgyzstan; falling ill with the COVID-19 Delta variant; hospitalization in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, then medical evacuation to Skopje, Macedonia; and finally, reaching the U.S. at the end of July. In the words Ron loves to quote from his favorite Scottish poet, the immortal Robert Burns, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men go oft awry!”

Envisioning a potential future REI partnership with the Rector and leaders of the Qarshi Engineering-Economics Institute, in Qarshi, Uzbekistan

When first Jeanine, then Ron, began to experience high fever and aches, helpful friends in Bishkek contacted a western doctor. As their conditions worsened, especially when Ron began to display heart arrhythmia issues, that doctor strongly recommended evacuation to a location with better available medical care. REI’s leaders in Colorado began working with their health insurance provider to arrange the evacuation – it was a fine balance to strike between being sick enough to require evacuation and not being too ill to endure the trip. Ten countries, which were experiencing COVID-19 surges of their own, refused to accept the evacuees. But finally, a hospital in Macedonia agreed to receive the Wileys, and they were on their way. . . and not a moment too soon! Both were already suffering from pneumonia, and Ron was in the midst of the infamous cytokine storm. Like the medical staff in Bishkek, the doctors and nurses in Skopje were excellent caregiving professionals, but they were far better resourced to meet the Wileys’ critical treatment and therapy needs.

The Wileys’ adult children sprang into action early on, with daughter Anna (a registered nurse) arriving in Bishkek and assisting her parents however necessary. Daughter Liz, with her husband Matt, beat even the evacuation plane to Skopje, where Anna joined them in addressing the practical needs of healthcare in a foreign country. There were many messages of love and encouragement from family and friends to brighten up 13 days in the hospital, and another 13 days of recuperation in a rented apartment. What wonderful hospitality they experienced from the Macedonians.

Within an isolation pod on the evacuation flight from Bishkek to Skopje

Looking back on this health crisis, Ron and Jeanine are especially grateful to their family, friends, REI colleagues, and hundreds of others who prayed for them and took immediate action in order to help meet their medical and practical needs, both abroad and stateside. Under the care of their doctors, the Wileys continue to rebuild their strength and are particularly grateful for the gift of life. More than one person has declared that they must have been spared for a greater purpose – to continue loving and serving their family, friends, and the peoples of Central Asia.

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