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!