Four-year-old Jean sits quietly outside his home. He takes in the sights and sounds of the village children playing football. He watches as the kids excitedly cheer for the goal that has just been scored. And he yearns for the day that he can take part in the games.
Sadly, Jean is never invited to play. He suffers from a condition known as bowed legs – an orthopedic defect that makes his legs O-shaped. Normal, everyday childhood activities such as running, climbing stairs and jumping are very difficult.
Jean is often found alone playing a small keyboard – a gift his father, Theodore, purchased in a local market to ease his son’s isolation. Jean instantly took a liking to the instrument and spends hours making the best music he can. To his parents, Jean’s music is beautiful … like that of a classically trained composer.
Jean’s father is a farmer, and his main crops are the African staple, cassava, and rice. He was able to afford a small keyboard, but the cost of fixing Jean’s legs is far more than he makes in a single year. The family lives in an isolated region of Madagascar, ideal for farming, but where constant rains repeatedly wash out the roads, isolating the village from more developed areas where medical care is more accessible.
The situation appeared to be hopeless until Jean’s family heard the announcement that gave them a reason to hope once again. Mercy Ships was offering a free screening in their community. Jean could be evaluated for a free orthopedic surgery!
Many villagers weren’t sure whether to believe that the surgeries were really being offered for free, but Theodore immediately embraced hope. He said, “If it is on the national radio, it must be true. They wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.”
So, Theodore took Jean to the screening, and they received a yellow patient card – Jean’s ticket to the Africa Mercy and his only hope for straight legs. Onboard the Africa Mercy, Dr. Frank Haydon, a volunteer orthopedic surgeon from the United States, evaluated Jean and approved him for surgery. Six weeks after surgery, the little boy’s casts were removed, and he walked for the first time on his straightened legs.
Jean spent three months onboard the Africa Mercy and in the Mercy Ships HOPE Center, where patients recover after their surgeries. For the first time in his life, other kids wanted to play with him. The compassion and mercy of the all-volunteer crew made a lasting impression on Theodore, who has struggled with how to raise a son with physical limitations. “It has not been easy up until now, but we have been shown a lot of kindness here,” he said.
Now Theodore looks forward to returning home and watching Jean play football. And he will also encourage his son to share kindness with others just as they’ve been shown kindness. Along with new possibilities for the future, Theodore imagines that music will continue to be a part of Jean’s future … just as his experience onboard the hospital ship will always be a major part of his story.
Story by Tanya Sierra