At the age of four, she was struck by a deadly flesh-eating bacteria called noma. The relentless disease largely affects young children. In Clerette’s case, it began as a small abscess in her gum. Within days, a large chunk of her left face was gone.
Nearly 90 percent of all children afflicted with noma do not survive. Those that do – like Clerette – are left horribly disfigured. When people saw Clerette, they didn’t see a cute little girl with braids. They only saw the massive hole on the left side of her face.
The results were devastating. Her father abandoned her. Her mother remarried. Her stepfather left them because he could not tolerate the insults and abuses hurled their way. Clerette’s mother believed that her daughter was cursed, so she stopped caring for her. Clerette was wasting away into physical, spiritual and emotional nothingness.
And at the moment of seemingly impenetrable hopelessness, a man named Zara and his wife came into Clerette’s life. They didn’t see the unsightly hole. They didn’t see a cursed child. They saw beauty amidst the ashes.
Zara and his wife loved Clerette as if she were their own child. They prayed that God would send a cure for her. Zara feared he had missed the one opportunity to provide Clerette with healing. In 1996 the Mercy Ships vessel, Anastasis, was docked in Madagascar. By the time Zara convinced Clerette’s mother to allow Clerette to be seen by the doctors, it was too late – all the appointments were filled. He asked God to provide a miracle.
Almost on cue, Zara saw two Anastasis crew members walking the beach. Clinging to the last bit of hope, Zara convinced the crew members to allow him to bring Clerette to the dock. Then he convinced Dr. Gary Parker, maxillofacial surgeon, to add Clerette to the already full surgery schedule. Upon hearing that Clerette would have surgery, Zara burst into tears of joy. Years of contempt and ridicule were washed away by mercy and compassion.
Over 18 years later, that same little girl – now a young woman, whole and happy – would once again stand in front of Dr. Gary. He performed a revision to the reconstruction he had done in 1996. And Clerette was again reminded of what her “adoptive parents” had seen in her so many years earlier . . .
“You have reminded that I am beautiful. I feel beautiful again,” she said.
We thank Clerette for bravely sharing her story with us and are excited for her new beginning!
It’s easy to locate our eleven-year-old namako (the Malagasy word for friend). Just walk through the ward door and listen for the laughter. It’s a fact of life that Windy is rarely ever at his bed – he’s usually playing with someone else. And that “Someone Else” is usually another burn patient named Fandresena.
They are best friends, bound by natural compatibility and a common understanding of each other’s pain. They are a heart-warming reminder of how our patients receive the benefits of friendship and support, both from other patients and crew members.
As you walk up to him, the boy raises his arms for a huge hug … before wickedly smiling and promptly stealing one of the two stickers that you have on your face after your visit to the rehab tent. With great delight, he pops the sticker onto his own face. He then proceeds to jabber away at you in English. He’s been learning fast. In fact, on a couple of occasions, we’ve even used him as a mini-translator.
You would never guess that this boy with the sunny disposition has experienced something terrible. His face and arms tell a sad story. His skin is discoloured, uneven, raised, and grazed – beginning on his left cheek and snaking down his left arm. There is a patch on his head that should have hair, but doesn’t. He has limited movement in his arm and cannot straighten it. (more…)
The other day, I saw him toddling around our Mercy Ships dock on perfectly normal feet. He was holding the hand of his dad, Tojo. And Tojo’s grin was as bright as the Madagascan sun that smiled down on them.
It was a Kodak moment . . . created by the free medical care that Rajo received in the form of surgery, casting and braces. In reality, however, his healing involved so much more.
As physical therapist Dean Hufstedler says, “The patients come because they are hoping we can fix a physical deformity, but we start fixing everything. Their emotions matter, their spiritual life matters, their physical state matters. We’re not going to just put a band-aid on the physical and send you back. You’re a whole person, and we’re going to address you as a whole person. We start that healing process and validate them, and I think that validation is more important than the physical healing.”
When Rajo first came into our ward on the day before his surgery, he was shy and intimidated . . . understandably so. He had been brought from his warm, countryside home into this cold, sterile, ship-shaped box of strangers – strangers with a different appearance and differently colored skin. He was told that his foot would be changed by these strangers. He was being asked to trust the unknown
And that was difficult to do. It was the unknown to which his mother had gone, stolen by dengue fever two years ago. It was the unknown that had caused him to born with a clubfoot.
But here he was, and he found consolation in the safety of his father’s arms.
Minette didn’t feel human. A 4.3 kg (9.5 lb) neurofibroma was robbing her of that right. Surgery aboard the AfricaMercy was Minette’s final hope.
Before Minette’s surgery, the weight of the physical burden she carried left her without reason to smile. But after her 4.3 kg (9.5 lb) neurofibroma was removed, we saw the amazing power of transformation. None of us will forget that moment when Minette cracked her first smile and she hasn’t stopped smiling since!
“People wouldn’t talk to me. They looked at me as if I was less than human. Feeling the love of the crew has changed my life.”
At the HOPE Center she encourages other patients like Sarah who are recovering from their own surgery.
Zakael grins from ear to ear. On a very hot summer day in Madagascar, the seven-year-old wears his shirt open, revealing a small surgical scar just above his left collarbone. He wears the scar proudly . . . a symbol of where he has been and where he is going.
“I want to be a soldier, just like my grandfather,” declares Zakael. “I want to run fast. Now that I’m healed, I will be able to do this!”
One could say that this is not the same boy that set foot on the Africa Mercy a week earlier . . . and one would be right. A week earlier, Zakael’s shirt was buttoned to the top in an attempt to hide a tennis ball-sized cyst that had been slowly growing since birth. A week earlier, Zakael wasn’t smiling. In fact, his gaze was sullen and withdrawn. A week earlier, he wasn’t sure anyone could remove the cyst that stood in the way of his dreams.
In one short week, the path of Zakael’s life was changed. But the path to reach that transformation was not a short one.
Soon after Zakael’s birth, his father, Zahael, noticed a bump at the base of his son’s neck. In the western world, this would have been treated immediately. But for the poorest of the poor, like Zakael’s family, adequate healthcare is not easily accessible. Zahael was desperate to have the bump removed, but he could not afford the costly surgery his son needed. With each passing year, the cyst grew, and hope faded a little more.
Then Zakael heard that Mercy Ships was sending one of its hospital ships to Madagascar! Armed with state-of-the-art medical equipment and healthcare professionals, including specialized surgeons, from around the world – the Africa Mercy offered Zakael his last hope for healing.
But a couple of challenges still had to be confronted. The trip from their village in Mampikony to the ship was a two-day journey by vehicle, and it would cost more money than Zahael had. At the same time, people in their community tried to frighten Zahael by telling him that the “foreigners would harm Zakael” and that “they would never be seen or heard from again.” However, Zahael ignored them and set his sights on the hospital ship and the only hope for healing for his son.
“I don’t trust anything else apart from God,” shared Zahael confidently. “I said to myself, ‘Jesus is with us! He will be with us to go there and to return home.’”
Holding onto that trust, Zahael sold the family’s last remaining treasures – a goose and a chicken. It was just enough to cover the cost of transportation to the ship. But it was a wonderful investment . . . it purchased a new life for Zakael.
After the successful surgery, they prepared to depart the ship. Zahael watched his son – grinning, no longer ashamed, ready to step into his new life – and he knew that the last week had made all the difference in his son’s future.
“God guided us! I kept in mind that we will be here, and my son will be healed. Those people who did not trust are not healed. We are healed!” Zahael said.
Written by Tanya Sierra