At six months of age, Elias Armstrong’s life was saved by a liver transplant. He survived both the procedure and the post operative recovery. His body’s attempt to reject his new organ was a given, as was a precarious life of a baby with a new liver. We next hear about him when he ran away from home at age 10. Luckily he was soon found in good condition.
I write this, not with the news that he won the Spelling Bee or aced the SAT/ACT at age 12. Rather, 12-year-old Elias was mowed down by a volley of bullets by a man whose car Elias and two or three other teenagers had stolen. The car’s owner tracked the car using a locator app.
And so, in a short paragraph we describe a life medical science triumphed to save as a baby later cut down so easily with a gun. In the media, the event was described quietly, in somber tones; our customary ordinary routine. Just another Black boy’s life wasted on the streets of America. I’m however here to say that many people dropped the ball. Elias needed much more than he received in his short life.
As a baby, resources were spent to pinpoint the cause of his liver failure while giving him excellent supportive nursing and medical care. It followed a search for a suitable liver and superior surgical techniques to actually accomplish his transplant. His post-op anti-transplant rejection therapy was a result of tremendous amount of immunological research. Subsequent excellent post-transplant management of the baby went into saving Elias’ life. I know that if he’d been born in Africa, he would never have survived. That, in addition to our society’s indifference toward the tragic epidemic of violent Black youth deaths, troubles me. What we lose when an Elias is killed on our streets is incalculable.
As an individual with feelings and a human psyche, I can only imagine the baby and later little boy Elias, lived a rough existence. I suspect he suffered from PTSD and deep depression. To live in pain all one’s life isn’t a recipe for a happy existence. I find that part of his existence puzzling. I do not know but I hope he and his family had psychological support.
All I know about his family or family life is what I saw when his father’s and older sister were interviewed by local media. Charges should have been filed against the shooter, the father said. Denver’s DA determined that she couldn’t prove the killer’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Still, I am at a loss to explain why a 12-year-old was joyriding in a stolen car, late at night. Since his birth mother does not appear in the picture, the onus of both discipline and guardianship fell squarely on his father and his much older sister. Since it’s impossible to tell how each family disciplines and raises children, we evaluate the result of the parenting by looking at how its children behave. For the Armstrong family, the result is, their charge is dead.
I have tried to imagine being the 12-year-old’s father and can’t imagine telling him to stay out all night with his 13-, 14-, or 15-year-old friends. It should not need saying that families should have a curfew, a time beyond which a child cannot be wandering the streets. Parenting requires unwavering attention of the parent on the child in question. It is a difficult job, particularly so in today’s America where our attention is distracted. Far too many blinking lights call upon us to respond and engage, making our determination and ability to be good parents and good people a hard enough endeavor.
Despite the many hardships, we must try to be better parents. Our social services and psychological community must reach out to vulnerable and at-risk children and their families, which Elias and his family were. I don’t know, but I hope he had mental-health care in his short, tragic life. The faith that we so ardently demonstrate in the sanctity of life should extend beyond birth and childhood. Children, no matter what color or background, are not logs of wood that we can throw into the fire of our societal progress. They need care in the way that America needs care, too.
Pius Kamau, M.D., a retired general surgeon, is president of the Aurora-based Africa America Higher Education Partnerships (AAHEP); co-founder of the Africa Enterprise Group and an activist for minority students’ STEM education. He is a National Public Radio commentator, Huffington Post blogger, and past columnist for Denver dailies. He has authored a memoir and a novel recounting Kenya’s bloody colonial history.