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
When I met five-year-old Fandresena he couldn’t use his right hand to give me a fist bump – a popular greeting similar in meaning to a high five. Two years earlier the cheeky little boy was caught in a house fire that severely burned his right hand.
If Fandresena had lived in the western world, he would have been treated immediately with proper wound care. But when you live among the poorest of the poor in Madagascar, adequate healthcare isn’t always an option. So, Fandresena’s father, Gabriel, took his son to traditional healers. They applied oils to the burns and bandaged the little boy’s hand. Gabriel can still remember his son’s cries of pain.
Slowly the hand began to heal, but the healing came at a price. The skin surrounding the burn began to pull together, contracting. Three of his fingers on his right hand were bent at the joint, unable to move.
Imagine yourself as a five-year-old boy with only one good hand. You can’t play catch. You can’t pick up a pencil or a crayon. You can’t participate in many of the games the other boys play.
Gabriel found help for his son when Mercy Ships arrived in Madagascar. Dr. Tertius Venter, volunteer plastics surgeon, released the little boy’s contracted fingers. Fandresena endured a few weeks of heavy bandaging and dressing changes. After his hand healed sufficiently, the focus shifted to therapy – stretching exercises and lots of encouragement to use his hand.
It was during this time that I decided to introduce Fandresena to a popular American greeting – the fist bump. Most of the time, he would give me a fist bump with his left hand. Then I would ask him to do it with his right. He would concentrate very hard to make his hand into a fist, and then he would bump my fist ever so gently, afraid he would damage his newly repaired hand.
But, little by little, Fandresena’s hand got stronger and gained more flexibility. Finally, the day came when he gave me a fist bump with his right hand! He didn’t even think about it. He just did it! His face lit up when he realized what he had done.
It was a fist bump full of pure joy – courtesy of wonderful volunteers onboard a floating hospital.
Written by Tanya Sierra
The man trembled up our gangway and did something extraordinary . . . he changed our lives while we were changing his life.