Africa has opened up my eyes to a lot of things, some incredibly joyful, some incredibly heartbreaking. One of the heartbreaking things that I have seen and learned more about is the terrible effects of poverty particularly related to health. Most of our patients, if not all, are poor. Due to this they are not able to provide for their families basic health needs including food, water, shelter, clothes, never mind medical needs (doctor visits, medicines, tests, etc). There are different levels of poverty but some of the poorest of the poor are the patients that are afflicted with a disease called Noma. Just google “Noma disease images” and you will see the horrific effects of this disease. This disease starts generally between the ages of 1 and 6 and is due to a combination of poverty, malnutrition, and poor dental hygiene and if the child lives an area with poor sanitation they have an even higher risk of getting this disease. For those of you reading this that have been to a poor country you can empathize with these risks knowing that most people in poverty are surrounded by these exact disparities. I think particularly of Haiti and the after effects of the detrimental natural disasters to an already impoverished country. I bet Noma was high there before the disasters so I can't imagine what they are dealing with now. This is true for any poor country but then is multiplied by natural disasters, civil war, drought, famine, etc. (*Sudan, Darfur, Irag). Right now the WHO states that there is about 140,000 new cases each year of Noma. We need to be made aware of this awful disease so that we are willing to do something about it. Go, send, pray; which one is your part?
While in Guinea I have seen more patients with this disease than in the other 6 countries I have been to. About 80-90% of all Noma patients do not survive due to septicemia, pneumonia, or diarrhea associated with malnutrition. For the 10 to 20% of Noma patients that do survive they are left with severe disfigurements of the face. This leads to then being ostracized and tagged demon possessed and/or cursed. On Mercy Ships we see that 10-20% that have survived. In the past, while serving on board, I have always cared for them in the wards or doing their wound care but this year God blessed me with a greater gift and that was giving me a friend.
When I started to write about my friend Fodi for this blog I realized that his story and our friendship didn’t carry as much weight if you didn’t understand the disease he has and what he has gone through. The scenario up above about being ostracized and labeled demon possessed is exactly what Fodi endured as a boy and now a man. Yet the joy, love, kindness and care that this man shows to all who have met him would never let you know.
This outreach has been a bit (*extremely) different for me compared to what I’ve been doing the past years on the ship. One of the biggest things I missed was getting to know the patients. So I decided to sign up to “Befriend a patient” where you get to befriend a patient (as the name implies). I won’t lie to ya, I originally signed up for a middle aged female thinking ‘she’ would be a good match especially because of Hailey. Thankfully my wise friend Sarah knew that Fodi was our perfect friend. And she couldn't have been more right!
Upon meeting Fodi I knew he was perfect for us when I asked one of the nurses who he was and she pointed to an older man (51) with a bedazzled bright yellow paper crown sitting firmly on his head. As soon as Hailey saw this 'crown of glory' she lit up and so did I. Fodi put on the biggest smile he could and quickly put out his hands to hold Hailey. This is where our friendship began.
Over the past 4 months Hailey and I have had the joy and pleasure of getting to know Fodi. During his stay on board he had three separate surgeries in which Dr.Gary basically made him the other side of his mouth. Through visits down to the hospital, afternoons on Deck 7 playing Jenga or working on his alphabet, or trips over to the Hope Center during his last few days getting treatment, we loved spending time with him. Each hour spent with him was so precious and even though our conversations were short due to language differences they were always sweet. I’m happy to report that Fodi went home this past Thursday fully healed and will receive his final surgery by a Guinean doctor trained by Dr.Gary. Praise God! Fodi is just one of the many patients gone through during this outreach in Guinea but what an impression he has made on my life and so many others.
During these 4 years on the ship and seeing some of the poorest of the poor whether it be due to them coming for surgery or begging on the streets this passage gave me new insight, conviction, and hope.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ -Matthew 25
|Outside on deck 7|