By Katherine Young, South Sudan
They came to us from a small village several hours down the road,having already travelled more than eight hours to the capital where they had been told nothing could be done.
But they had heard that maybe we could help. So they came. A gaunt five day old baby with old-man wrinkled skin and a protrusion of his intestines the size of a tennis ball extending into his umbilical chord, and a mother who held her baby gingerly, not sure if she should love this baby who would probably die. But they came with hope.
Surgery for something like this is not an option in this country and the family did not have the means to travel to neighbouring countries. When they arrived to see us we sent emails around the world asking if there was anything we could do for them with our limited resources and were advised to try dressings and compression bandaging. I have to confess; we doubted it would fix a problem as big as this.
Part of what we are called to do in this place – where death is such a prevalent reality, where so many babies die before they are given a name – is to show that each life is precious, known and loved byGod… and by us. So we sat with this mother, we prayed with her,and we told her we would do what we could to try and help.
Every day we held the frail body of this little boy in our hands and wrapped a bandage snuggly around his belly. We sat with the mother and helped her to express her milk and feed him with a syringe. And we spoke to and loved her baby. And slowly by slowly he started gaining weight, 10 or 20 grams at a time. We showed his mother how to care for the lump on his belly,and she gained confidence in looking after him. She started smiling at him.
Since she had a friend nearby in town we confidently discharged her.Every couple of days I would find her sitting on a bench outside our operating room waiting for us to review her son, with a warm greeting on her lips and smiling as she gazed down at her boy proudly, who now had a name. When the lump on his belly had reduced to the sizeof a 10c piece we felt it was safe for her to return to her village in the hope that he actually would be able to live. Before she departed she thanked us. She said that before she came to us, she thought her baby was going to die. But now she had hope. And she promised to return with a gift.
She turned up again last week. It had been more than two months since I last saw her. During that period civil war had broken out in many parts of South Sudan and our team had to be evacuated. I had no idea if the fighting had claimed their lives, let alone the ever-present threats of malaria,contaminated water and food insecurity. But there she was. Sitting. Waiting for me on ‘her’ bench, with a warm greeting on her lips and smiling as she gazed down at her chubby chuckling growing son.
This young boy still faces many challenges and I do not now know what life here has in store for him. But I do know that because of his ‘deformity’ his family have been able to see that there is love and that there is hope and that Jesus is the source of that for them and their nation, if they continue to allow him to grow it in them.