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A service that saves lives

ERV, Helvetia’s specialist in travel insurance, looks back on a turbulent year. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, more claims were processed than ever before. One very special case was that of Guy Luisier, a monk from the canton of Valais. He had to be repatriated to Switzerland home from the Democratic Republic of Congo at a time when international air traffic was practically at a standstill.

4 October 2020, text: Helvetia, photo: Helvetia

Guy Luisier
Guy Luisier and his tale of an exceptional life, a dangerous illness and his love of Africa.

Back home in the Abbey of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune in Valais, he tells his story. He did not return from the Congo by choice – it was a matter of life or death. Guy Luisier is back on his feet again thanks to many days of dedicated work by employees of Medicall, the emergency call centre of European Travel Insurance Co. Ltd. (ERV), and of financial services provider VZ Vermögenszentrum.

How the adventure in Congo began

The Abbey of Saint-Maurice d’Agaune in Valais is already 1,500 years old and has always been open to concerns of a universal nature. That was true in 2010, when a priest from Kasai province in the Democratic Republic of Congo contacted the abbey. His request was to help establish a religious community based on the St. Maurice model in the region. The difficulty was letting the Congolese priests set up the community all on their own. They needed support from St. Maurice. Although somewhat hesitant at first, Guy Luisier ultimately decided to travel to Congo. Initially intended to last six months, his stay there became open-ended. As Luisier recalls: «The moment in March 2012, when I stood for the first time on a deserted hill near the town of Kananga – once you’ve experienced the sunset there, you’ll return again and again.» In Congo he helped plant crops, open a kindergarten, take over the running of a primary school and set up a medical centre. Today, he spends six to eight months a year in Congo and four to six in Switzerland.

A fateful insect bite

During the rainy season, insects are rife in Congo and the danger of insect bites should not be underestimated. Guy Luisier had to experience that first hand. What should have been the simple treatment of an insect bite led to complications. Instead of a special sterilized needle, the medical worker used some other «instrument» to treat the bite. Within a few days, the wound was infected and painful. Luisier was given antibiotics. But instead of helping, they actually made things worse: Luisier lost the sight in in his left eye. It was then he realized he would have to return to Switzerland for further treatment. But before the air ambulance could take off from Kinshasa, Luisier experienced what he calls «an odyssey with moments that, in retrospect, were quite amusing».

«I was impressed by how ERV and VZ, together with Medicall, were able to get me home despite extremely difficult conditions.»
Guy Luisier

An odyssey with a happy ending

The adventure began in the Polyclinique Saint George in Kananga. Despite the coronavirus outbreak, Guy Luisier’s room was always full with visitors, who brought him food and kept him entertained. He was then taken to Kananga airport in an ambulance that roared at breakneck speed through a marketplace. Bumps in the road taken at speed threw the back door of the ambulance open and, like in a film, a sister had to hold on to the stretcher for five kilometres while a brother tried to keep the door closed. A Kenyan airline flew him to Kinshasa, where the doctors in the hospital were at least able to prevent his life-threatening situation from getting any worse and avoid amputation of his foot (which was septic). As Guy Luisier relates: «When, after five days, I was greeted at Kinshasa airport by a Swiss doctor who offered me Swiss mineral water, I realized just how lucky I was.» His foot was operated on in the hospital in Renens and his eye in Lausanne eye hospital.

Return to Congo

After two weeks in hospital, Guy Luisier was able to return home to the abbey. But his yearning for Congo did not abate and, in October 2020, he returned there – «quite reassured, because I know that I can rely on ERV and Medicall at all times. I’m looking forward to seeing Africa again and my brothers and sisters there.»