Baby in Bed 3
“Pediatric bed #3 is a 7 month old with malaria and anemia. She also seems kinda small and her mother says she doesn’t breastfeed well.”
I heard this report in our daily sign-out rounds one rainy July morning and thought it sounded like a run-of-the-mill malaria case with a little malnutrition mixed in. However, when I arrived at bed 3 later that morning I found signs of a very different problem. “Katy” was an adorable 7 month old baby but had some peculiarities about her: a tongue that seemed too large for her mouth, a huge open fontanel (“soft spot” on the skull), a very noticeable hernia that caused her belly button to protrude, and generally low muscle tone that prevented her from rolling over, sitting up, or holding a toy. In addition to the bread-and-butter malaria, it was apparent that Katy had something else very wrong as well. I sent off an additional lab test and her diagnosis was confirmed a few hours later: hypothyroidism (low amounts of thyroid hormone). In the U.S., this problem is usually detected in newborns within a few days to weeks of their birth thanks to newborn screening programs, but in Togo there are no such safety nets for infants and it can often go undiagnosed for months or years, causing damage to the developing brain and other body organ. Luckily for Katy, she contracted malaria during our annual rainy season and therefore came to medical attention sooner rather than later. The treatment is simple: one pill per day of thyroid hormone along with blood tests every few months to ensure that she’s receiving the correct amount. We immediately started her on this medicine and saw marked improvements in her ability to breastfeed during her hospitalization. Fast-forward 4 months and now Katy is a rolly-polly 11-month old who is eating everything in sight and sitting up on her own! Not only that, but her hernia has almost disappeared and her fontanel (soft spot on her skull) has nearly closed like a normal baby. Her mother, and I, couldn’t be more thrilled. I gave them a follow-up appointment in January and am secretly hoping that she can pull-up or walk by the next time I see her.
Though Katy’s treatment is straightforward, financing it can be very tricky for her family. They must purchase daily medicines, make long trips to the hospital every 2-3 months, and also have routine blood tests performed – all for years on end. For many families in Togo this can be a nearly insurmountable hardship. Thanks to our Pediatric Benevolence Fund, which many of you generously supplied, I’m able to help offset many of these costs for Katy and other patients like her. In a medical practice filled with sick and dying children, it’s such a ray of hope to see “simple” cases like this making remarkable progress!
Nerd alert: back-to-school shopping has always been one of my most favorite times of the year and living in Togo has not changed that at all! Though a little delayed in starting this year, the Togolese schools are officially back in session. Just as in the U.S., a new school year in Togo means back-to-school shopping for pencils, rulers, and notebooks, which is an additional cost to families who have already paid for school enrollment fees and mandatory school uniforms. Since all of these expenses can add up rapidly, the poorest families in Togo sometimes choose to stop sending their children to school at a young age, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
After moving to here in May, I have become involved in a local church plant (meaning a new church that’s just starting out) in the neighborhood of Kpotame. The church has several struggling families as well as some orphans that attend, so the pastors organized donations of school supplies for these needy families. In addition to many other church members, I was able to use some of my ministry donations to help the church buy basic school supplies for over 20 students. It’s amazing what the gift of a ruler and notebook can mean in a child’s life! It is our hope as a church that these children feel loved and supported as they return to school this year.
[Confession: I took this opportunity to stock-up on some new pens for myself too🙂 ]
Investments of Time
This past month brought another huge blessing with the arrival of my parents for a 3-week visit to Togo. It was wonderful to show my parents all of the aspects of my life and ministry here. They were able to observe my daily work at the hospital, interact with patients and staff, and even pitch-in with helping to organize several hospital storage containers. Outside the hospital, they learned how I shop for food and cook from scratch; how I get clothes custom-made; how we deal with heat & rain; and they even rode all over Togo on the back of motos!
My dad was able to work with my gardener to landscape my yard and also did a lot of small projects around my house (including the very important “bug-proofing”). My mom ministered to other missionary families through offering childcare, hosting families for dinners, and baking zucchini bread (yum!). On days away from the hospital, I had the opportunity to teach a Pediatric class to our nursing school…my dad now thinks he’s an expert on Pediatric respiratory distress🙂 We also went out to a village for a Mobile Medical Clinic where our nursing students were able to practice taking blood pressure levels and sharing the Gospel.
When we weren’t working, we visited local African markets, went on a guided nature hike that ended at 2 waterfalls, saw an old German castle in the hills of Togo, and stopped by a Togolese convent and monastery. Several of my missionary friends were able to join us on the sightseeing trips too!
Sound like something you’d like to experience too? I’ve got an extra bedroom and an empty seat on my moto for the next adventurous visitor!
- Please pray for stamina and rest for our medical team as the hospital enters a “dry” season in regards to staffing. We have very few volunteers coming in the next few months and several of our long-term doctors will be leaving for vacations/furloughs before the year’s end.
- Pray for unity on our team, both among medical providers and all of our missionaries in general, as we are welcoming a lot of new families and saying goodbye (temporarily) to some others.