Thérèse’s husband was already struggling to provide for their family when Elisabeth was born with a cleft lip and palate. Neighbors openly laughed at Elisabeth’s face, saying there was nothing Thérèse could do to save her baby.
Elisabeth was unable to breastfeed successfully due to her malformed palate, and she began to lose weight dramatically. Even her father thought that she would die.
Thérèse had never heard of anyone having this condition before and had no idea how to care for her tiny daughter. She kept the newborn alive the only way she could think of – by feeding her diluted sweetened condensed milk from a spoon.
“I was really sad because I was thinking about her future,” shared Thérèse. “I had in mind that she would have this problem all of her life.”
Then one fabulous day someone at church told Thérèse the Mercy Ship was returning to Madagascar soon. They were sure Elisabeth’s condition could be fixed onboard – for free! So Thérèse began an anxious wait.
At three months old and weighing a fragile 2.1 kg (4.6 lbs), Elisabeth was screened for the Mercy Ships Infant Feeding Program.
Under further care from dietitian Jillian Davis (USA), it took just eight weeks for Elisabeth double her weight. Then she was strong enough to undergo surgery on her cleft lip, and her appearance dramatically changed. She will continue to receive dietary support until after the surgery to correct her cleft palate, which will take place when she is 10 months old.
“Even though I am poor, I feel a lot of things have gone from my shoulders now,” reflects Thérèse. “Before I was so worried about the future, but now my baby will look like everybody else.”
Thérèse’s neighbors were completely shocked when mother and daughter returned after the baby’s first surgery. Elisabeth looked beautiful. “It’s done! It really happened, God was really with them!” the villagers exclaimed.
Story by Sharon Walls