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.
And so our wooing started . . .
The next night, after his surgery, Rajo was quiet. But he perked up when he saw Jenica walk in. She used another well-proven tactic – balloons. Some say that this ship floats on balloons.
During his time of post-surgery rest, cast changes, and learning to walk, Rajo became acquainted with more members of our team. They were armed with abundant weapons of mass affection – stickers, animal board games, balloon art, and the ability to make funny facial expressions.
Rajo was particularly fond of the funny faces. Jenica bears witness: “He is a huge copycat. If you made a silly face, he would make it back at you. If you pinched his nose, he would pinch your nose. If you would make a honking sound, he would think that every time you pinched his nose, the honking sound should happen.”
Once Rajo’s friendship and trust were won, it was easier to battle the enemies of boredom, fear of the noises associated with changing his casts, and resistance to the rehab exercises.
Rajo’s heart began to heal. It was his father’s arms that held him when he first came to us. The other day, while getting one of his casts changed, he saw physical therapist Elise Martinez, one of his new best friends. Immediately, he held imploring hands out to her. He wanted to be held by her arms.
The women on the ship have become like the mother he lost. By helping Rajo now, they are also helping Rajo when he is thirteen . . . thirty . . . sixty. It really is stunning to see the absolute love the crew have for the patients. How genuine. And how much. The mother of one patient said, “They cure us with love.”
Jenica says, “It makes me feel very humbled that I am allowed to be a part of it. The fact that I got to be here for this time and I got to play a small part in his life makes me appreciate what we do onboard and what Mercy Ships does throughout so many different countries. His future is so much brighter, and that makes his whole family’s future brighter.”
And now Rajo has returned home – a little boy spoiled by love.