A missionary midwife who was shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has said it is a miracle she is still alive.
Maud Kells, 75, from Northern Ireland, was hit at point blank range after grabbing hold of the gun as a bandit opened fire during a bungled robbery at her home last month.
The sprightly pensioner, who received an OBE for her work in the DRC, spent almost seven weeks in hospital after the attack in Mulita in the north-east of the vast and heavily-forested central African country.
She said: “The bullet just missed my lung. It just missed a large blood vessel by a fraction of a centimetre. If it had hit that, I would have just died on the spot from severe haemorrhaging.
“It came out, almost on my spinal chord. Another fraction of a centimetre and I would have been paralysed.
“It was a miracle - God saved my life.”
Miss Kells, from Co Tyrone, has travelled to the Congo almost every year since 1968 and was recognised in this year’s New Year Honours.
She has overseen the building of a maternity hospital, an operating theatre and a school, now named in her honour, in the isolated town which has a population of about 5,000 people.
Speaking about her ordeal from her native Cookstown, the devout Christian recalled how the bandits, believed to be ex military men, had lured her outside in the middle of the night by pretending to be the husband of a sickly patient.
“It didn’t cross my mind until I got back to my own house that these were the bandits who were trying to lure me out of the house,” she added.
“When I got back to my compound, I went through the first gate and, just as I went to go round the gable of the house these two bandits came running round from the back of the house with a gun just pointed to me.
“They were wearing camouflage clothing and had masks. The gun was camouflaged as well.
“I thought the gun was just a bit of wood or something just to frighten me, so I went to grab it and he just pulled the trigger.
“I just happened as quickly as that and I got quite a shock when that shot went out.”
Despite the severity of her injury and her advancing years, Miss Kells’ medical training kicked in and she mustered the strength to remain standing.
“I could feel the blood trickling down my back,” she said. “So, I put my back to the wall and stood against the wall to try to stop the bleeding. I think that sort of saved my life.
“I thought ‘I need to stop this blood’ and so I went to the wall and put real hard pressure on the wound.
“Someone was saying when they interviewed the bandit that he said he expected me to fall down.
“The fact that I didn’t fall, apparently was very instrumental in saving my life.”
The robbers fled empty handed but one believed to have been the gunman was tackled by Miss Kells’ security guard and held by the authorities.
He is currently in custody awaiting trial.
Twelve hours after the shooting, Miss Kells was airlifted out of Mulita and spent several weeks receiving treatment at Nyankunde hospital.
She arrived home in Northern Ireland last week but is still receiving daily treatment to the gunshot wound to her shoulder and fractured rib.
Miss Kells said: “I can’t say I was afraid but, I just thought ‘I am not ready to die yet’. I thought God was going to take me now, but then when I survived a few hours I thought ‘I am going to survive this thing’.
“But I really did think I was dying at the beginning.”
Having overseen most of the development of Mulita, Miss Kells said she would like to return to the town to see the completion of a pre-school nursery which she started last year.
She said: “I have no real bitterness, I just feel sorry for the guy (who shot me). I am sure he must have a terrible conscience and must have a lot of regret especially since he has been arrested and didn’t get away with it.
“I just pray that through this experience he will come to his senses and realise what a dreadful thing that he did do.
“All I can think of now of Mulita is the affection, care and help that the people have given me and I would have no apprehensions about going back.”
Miss Kells also told a story of how she helped free a four-year-old girl from slavery to a witchdoctor.
“She had this rope around her neck and down her back and round her waist,” she said. “I wondered why she had this dirty old rope around her, cutting into her skin.
“Her mother had lost several children and felt that she was going to lose that girl as well so had gone to the witchdoctor. He said he could stop her from dying, from the evil spirits taking her - but she would always be a slave to him.
“And so he put this rope around her and said every year they had to bring a goat to him and shed the blood.
“I told her that I had gone to the Congo to explain that Jesus came to earth to free us from the bondage to sin and evil spirits - and if she put her trust in God he could free her and that she would not die at the hands of the evil spirits.
“Eventually she trusted the Lord and cut the ropes off the child herself. She was really a completely new person.”
Many Congolese live in fear of evil spirits and witchcraft, she said. “But the Christian message brings them freedom from this fear.”
Asked if sacrificing a family, home and career for her service in Congo had been worth it, Maud insisted that it was “well worth it”.
“The people in Mulita area have really appreciated everything I have done,” she said.
She notes that many women died in childbirth before she oversaw the construction of a hospital. Many children also received an education in the school she helped to build.
“When I was 18 I trusted the Lord,” she said. “Before that I could not understand why I was alive and what was the reason for living.”