Haingo was born in a tropical downpour. Even in the hut’s dim light, the baby’s mother, Viviaby, could see that Haingo’s tiny mouth was slashed by a bilateral cleft lip. Viviaby’s joy turned to sadness.
Her husband immediately rejected the newborn, saying, “In our family we don’t have babies like this!”
No one in their Madagascan village had heard of this disfigurement. “Is it because of something that I did?” Viviaby wondered. “But I am a Christian. We have nothing taboo (cursed). If God gave her to me like she is, He knows how to take care of her.” But the visible deformity was the least of Haingo’s problems.
The heartbreaking situation became dire as days passed. Haingo was unable to breastfeed because, unknown to Viviaby, the baby also had a cleft palate, a hole in the roof of her mouth that prevented her from sucking. The baby cried incessantly from hunger. Her father told his wife, “It’s not going to survive, so you’d better kill it!”
But Viviaby declared, “Let her live!” She initially kept the infant alive with diluted canned milk, but each can cost a day’s wages. Then she began to cook rice, grind it with sugar and feed it to the hungry baby. But still Haingo failed to thrive.
“I did not have money to buy something good for her,” recalled Viviaby. “She was getting more and more skinny. I was afraid, I was always praying.” At seven months old, Haingo weighed only 2.2 kilograms (under 5 pounds).
On every side, Viviaby encountered superstition and cruel comments … until one day, women who recently received free surgeries on the Mercy Ship walked by the secluded village. They heard about Haingo. “There is free treatment. You should bring your baby there!” they told Viviaby.
So, for two days, petite, courageous Viviaby carried her baby through rugged countryside to find transport to the Mercy Ships patient screening in her region.
The urgency of Haingo’s situation was assessed by screening coordinator Mirjam Plomp (NLD). “Haingo was seven months old, but she looked like she was only two months. I was surprised she was still alive. I realized we couldn’t do surgery straight away. She would have to be in our Infant Feeding Program to gain weight.”
Haingo and her valiant mother accompanied the team returning to the Africa Mercy on a Mission Aviation Fellowship flight. Mother and daughter were rushed onboard the hospital ship, and pediatric nurses began around-the-clock emergency nutrition. Shelby Olufson (USA) was charge nurse when Haingo was admitted. “She was so small! If you didn’t know her age, you would think she was newborn,” she said.
Dedicated nursing care enabled Viviaby to sleep well for the first time since Haingo’s birth. “They were feeding her with an oral feeding syringe because she couldn’t suck a bottle,” she explained.
Haingo began to gain weight and become responsive. Viviaby talked with other mothers of cleft lip babies in the ward. She was comforted, and she no longer felt alone. After 10 days, Haingo was stabilized and discharged to the Mercy Ships HOPE (Hospital Out Patients Extension) Center.
Haingo’s weight was tracked, and her development and care were discussed in the Infant Feeding Program (IFP). “I love seeing the transformation as the infants gain weight, get stronger and reach developmental milestones,” shared Mercy Ships dietitian, Jillian Davis (USA). “A most impacting aspect is the parent’s gaining hope.”
“Before, Haingo was crying a lot because she did not eat enough. But now she is happy! She has enough food!” exclaimed a delighted Viviaby.
As Haingo finally grew, she began to do all the heartwarming things that babies her age are supposed to do. She tracked movement with eyes that were previously glazed, and she waved “veloma” (goodbye) with chubby arms that had been so frail. After five months, Haingo reached 3.5 kilograms (7.7 pounds), the vital “average weight for height” benchmark. At last she was strong enough to undergo operations to repair her cleft lip and palate.
As Haingo came out of the first surgery, Viviaby gathered her baby in her arms. “She’s beautiful!” was all the overwhelmed mother could say.
When Viviaby and Haingo returned to their village, Haingo’s four-year-old brother was distraught. “You exchanged my sister!” he accused. “It’s not my sister!” The villagers were also amazed by the extraordinary change in Haingo’s appearance. Viviaby explained that the remaining surgery would fix all of the baby’s problems.
At 13 months old, Haingo received her final free operation. Only now, with her palate closed, can she eat and drink normally, with the ability to speak clearly.
Viviaby reflected, “Nobody believed someone could help Haingo. Without Mercy Ships, Haingo would have died. But my baby is healed!”
Yes, Haingo’s life was transformed by mercy.
Written by Sharon Walls