This past spring Arise Africa invited some American counselors and friends to come over and help train our staff on all types of issues. One afternoon we decided to take our friends into one of the compounds and visit a school we work in. They happily agreed and piled in the back of the Land Cruiser.
Upon arriving at the school the children immediately flocked to us. Not because the "white people" were there, but because we had our Child Sponsorship officers with us who are at that school everyday loving on those exact children. I am going to be honest all of our children are over the "white people" and they love our Zambian staff much more! They were pumped to see their Sammy Joe, Lucy, Solomon, Dai, and Kochelani.
One of our visiting American counselors, Debby, noticed a little girl playing with the other children that had both of her hands severely burnt to where she had no fingers. Unfortunately this is very common in Zambia because of the open fires used to cook and keep warm. Kids get burned all the time, and when you are falling into a fire you naturally put your hands out to stop your fall. Maggie didn't have any fingers, but basically clubs as hands. Debbie began to ask me questions and try to get close to the little girl.
As she played and we took a few photos and we watched her hide her hands. She was very strategic for nobody to see them. Debby didn't like this and wouldn't drop it. I sometimes become immune to seeing terrible things like this and accept that is is a way of life in these conditions. But Debby started asking us questions about how it happened. We didn't know the little girl, but learned her name was Maggie. She was not in our child sponsorship program but simply a child living nearby that came into the school for the fun.
I finally got close enough to Maggie to inspect a little bit more. When she warmed up to us I plopped her on my lap and with Debby's help inspected her hands. When we began to pay attention to her, one of our kids in sponsorship, Sarah immediately walked up to us and told us Maggie is her cousin and they live together. Sarah is in the 7th grade and has been in our program for years. We learned that at age 1 Maggie fell in a fire. As I felt the burnt skin to where fingers could be, I thought I felt some fingers under the skin on one hand.
Now here is where it gets tricky. I know nothing about medicine. I have no experience in this at all. I can feed kids and help coordinate mission trips like a champ. I got that down. My dad is a doctor and the closest I have gotten to medical care is holding the flashlight on the wound when he would stitch neighborhood children up on our breakfast table growing up. (remember to tell me about the time our friend Jack had to get stitched up on his bottom, that was a good one!) So here I am, in the middle of a compound THINKING that I feel some fingers under the burnt skin. Can her hand be rebuilt for fingers to be functional? Is that even medically possible in America, much more in Zambia? Think about a child with no fingers getting at least one. The last thing I want to do is offer any hope of something happening when it can't. But I also want to at least get this child to CURE hospital up the road that really knows what they are doing. It didn't help that Debby was sitting right next to me saying "Alissa surely there is something we can do." Arise is good at what we do, but I am not sure we are THAT good. Thanks alot Debby!
I gently mentioned to Sarah (older cousin) that she should have Maggie's mother come by the school sometime and we could possibly take her to CURE just to see what they would say. I was careful in my words to not offer any promise. Sarah said OK and we began playing again.
Within minutes a woman came up to the school and in typical Zambian fashion ( as a sign of respect) stood next to me but didn't say anything. I finally noticed the lady following behind me not speaking and introduced myself. She said she was Maggie's aunt. I was shocked. Most of the time it takes us months to get parents to the school for anything we need. And unfortunately most parents and guardians never show up. I was immediately humbled and blown away at the love they have for Maggie.
The aunt explained to me that Maggie's mother works all day but Sarah had run home after talking to me and she wanted to come immediately. I explained to her that we wanted to take Maggie to a local hospital JUST TO SEE what they said. She fully agreed and I left it to Solomon to make it happen.
We left the school with Debby begging that I keep her up to date on the process.
A few weeks later I got a text from Solomon telling me he had taken Maggie and her mom and aunt to CURE where they were told that any doctor that would even know anything about her hand would not be there until September. It was the end of March so we put the date on our calendars and waited for September. I emailed Debby who too put it on her calendar.
September came I got an email from Debby as a polite reminder. We need as many people helping us as possible! Solomon got the crew loaded in the Land Cruiser again and off they went to CURE. After seeing the American doctor who was in Zambia for his medical mission trip, x-rays were taken of the hands. After seeing the x-rays the doctor announced that one hand is fully intact under the casing of skin that had melted around it. Surgery would be the next day!!
We were all so excited! Surgery was preformed and Maggie did great. The doctor was able to fully cut away the burnt skin and find all 5 fingers. He was able to then reconstruct the hand where needed.
Maggie's family was amazing throughout this process. They took turns staying at the hospital with her which was a relief for us. Typically when we convince families that we can help their child by taking them to a hospital for surgeries, it is our staff that has to stay with them 24 hours around the clock. As much as we try to ask families to say involved sometimes they just don't. But in this case we came and checked daily on them, but her mom and aunt cared for her. Maggie however, woke up pretty angry at Solomon because of the pain she was in! Even after explaining how this will help her and that Solomon had nothing to do with the pain (other than facilitating getting her to the hospital) Maggie still believes he did the surgery! And she was mad.
Maggie's new hand was wrapped in bandages when she went home. For weeks we didn't know what was under there even though we had been told there were 5 functioning fingers. I think I asked Solomon about ten times if the doctor really said all five fingers would work. I kept calling and asking, "Are you sure he said that Solomon? The whole hand is there?" Poor Solomon politely reassured me every time. Her family has gone back for weekly checkups and worked tirelessly to keep the hand clean while living in the compound. That my friend is NO small feat. Solomon has continued to visit and go with them to the clinic, even though Maggie wants nothing to do with him!
Upon hearing that Maggie was "Anti Solomon" I decided we needed a way to get Solomon back in her good graces. I suggested to him that he offer her a spot in our child sponsorship program. Remember this entire time Maggie wasn't in any of our programs. She was a random kid we stumbled upon in the compound and were able to help with the amazing services of CURE International. Solomon agreed that the minute Maggie trusts him enough he will get her in the program and to our school everyday. Luckily with the help of her cousin Sarah, Maggie finally felt like she could come to school with her and that Solomon would not take out the other hand. Sarah and Maggie bravely marched into our school one day.
In early October the doctors were able to unwrap two fingers and allow them to start to be used. We were told the rest of the hand would not be fully healed until December. Maggie finally got to see and understand the impact of the surgery. For the first time ever she could dress herself, grab something, and her life was forever changed.
The night after the appointment I got a text at 2:50 AM from Solomon. It was 9AM Zambia time, the next morning. This usually means only one thing, something terrible has happened and they need me now. I hate the middle of the night texts and phone calls because my heart drops.
As I grabbed my phone preparing for the worst I saw this:
And then I cried, the ugly cry too. That's Maggie holding a pencil for the first time in her life. That is Maggie with two functioning fingers, and if you look closely you can see a few more hidden under the bandage. That is the Lord healing and restoring such a sweet little girl. And that is Maggie in a school for the first time too.
Solomon says he and Maggie are "besties" now. He clearly picked up that word from some American! Our plan worked! And of course, Debby is now Maggie's sponsor in the child sponsorship program!
Maggie went back to the doctor this week where her entire hand was unwrapped early! It has fully healed about a month earlier than expected. And look at those fingers! She told our staffer, Sammy Joe, that she was most excited to be able to feed herself for the first time. We were also told that they are still interested in seeing what they can do for her other hand. A group of doctors will be visiting CURE in February and once again we have it on our calendar. (Debby too!) This story keeps getting better and better!
This story is a perfect example of MANY people working together for Maggie. First of all if Debby hadn't pushed me I am sad to say I would have accepted Maggie's situation and figured it was too much for us. If we didn't have CURE hospital down the road from us that is free for kids like Maggie, this REALLY would have never happened. If we didn't have Solomon, Abraham (our fearless driver) and Maggie's family, there is no way she would be where she is now. But in reality if we didn't have the LORD orchestrating all of this, Maggie would still be running around with no fingers. Here is to a great ending for a child that deserves it so much.