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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Baby Grace is 14-months old and has Fungal Menigitis AND Tuberculosis - we are fighting for her life.

Sandra with Grace and Andrew

This is a hard story to write because it is very raw and my heart is aching, but it is an incredible story that must be told so I will write it for you now.  It’s a bit complicated so I will attempt to untangle it as best I can.

On January 15th I dropped in to the local hospital here in Swaziland with Dr. Ann Williams, who is an Opthamologist in the US and who also sits on our Board of Directors. Ann was here on an 11-day service trip and I wanted to introduce her to a doctor friend of mine who works hard with our babies who are malnourished.  When he heard that she was an Opthamologist he asked if she could do him a favor and see a small patient who was in bad condition. The doctor then told us the back story of baby Grace.

Grace is 14-months old and was found on the side of a road early in January 2013.  The baby was sick and the young mother couldn’t care for her (or chose not to) and left the baby with a note attached saying, “My baby is sick, please take care of her.  I am going to see my boyfriend”.  The baby was found, recognized and then taken to the paternal Grandfathers house for care.  The Grandfather of the child called his daughter and told her she must take the child to hospital (she is the sister to the baby’s father who is mentally ill and could not care for the baby himself). The baby’s Aunt had to quit her job and go stay at the hospital with the baby.  When they reached the hospital the baby was in a coma and remained that way for a week.   Grace was diagnosed with having Meningitis and was being treated very aggressively to save her life.  A couple of days after when she came out of her coma she went blind, right in front of the doctors eyes.  It was tragic and the doctor asked if Ann could examine the child and see if the damage was permanent, and so she did an examination of the child and gave us all the bad news.  The child would be blind permanently.  We walked away from the hospital sad and angry at the selfishness of the young mother who chose a boyfriend over the health of her baby.  After that I left for a two-week trip to Asia and didn’t think of the baby again until I got home.

This past week we had some friends come to visit from the US.  Andy and Sandra Stanley (Andy is also our Pastor at Northpoint Community Church) were in South Africa for a speaking engagement and decided to come and visit us for a couple of days.  I knew that my doctor friend at the hospital in Swaziland was a big fan of Andy’s books and teachings so I brought the Stanley’s in to the hospital for a short visit and learn of the work this doctor is doing with malnourished babies.

Dr. Ann Williams examining blind child
Dr. Ann Williams at the hospital in January

As we sat and visited I asked the doctor how the baby with Meningitis was doing?  He lit up and said, “The baby regained her sight!  She was healed!”  Wow!  I couldn’t believe it. But then he went on to explain the baby’s health was very serious.  She had Fungal Meningitis (much worse the Bacterial Meningitis) and Tuberculosis (TB) and was very ill.  It was a sad moment and then we moved on to other things.

Only a few minutes later I got a phone call from the Social Worker in that same hospital. She said she had a case to discuss with us and we went to visit her next.  The situation with that baby was complicated and so she passed it along to the Social Welfare office for help.  We headed over to the Social Welfare office in another part of town and discussed that case there.  It was agreed that we would take the baby described and would pick her up the next day.  We had NO idea that the baby was baby Grace because there was no mention of health issues. 

When we arrived at the Social Welfare office on Thursday morning to pick up the new baby I met with the father of the child and a couple of women who had been caring for the child.  They explained a bit of the background, but it never occurred to me that it was the same baby as the one in the hospital. They had shaved her head and she was in boys clothing so I didn’t even recognize the child. But then something happened.  I asked the Aunt to hold the child so I could get a photo for our files.  As soon as I saw them together I knew it was the baby with meningitis from three weeks ago! 

I asked her if she remembered me visiting her in the hospital with an eye Doctor and she said yes, but she was very sheepish.  It was a strange moment, but I knew that it was a divine appointment.  I asked if the child had any medical issues we should know about and they did say that she has had some sight loss, but some of it had come back.  They also said that she had had Meningitis and was having trouble sitting now as a result, but she was otherwise healthy. 

When we finished that meeting and took custody of baby Grace the Social Welfare officer told us there was another baby waiting outside to go with us too.  We met little baby Andrew, who is 5-months old, and after getting the details of his situation we left Manzini with two babies.

On the ride home Ian reminded me that when we met with the doctor at the hospital he said that baby Grace had Tuberculosis.  Right.  I had totally forgotten that.  The family didn’t give us any medication and there was no mention of the child having Tuberculosis.  After we dropped the babies off at the El Roi baby home it was time to take Andy and Sandra to the airport and so we headed back to town.

Baby Grace with her Aunt (face hidden for privacy).
As we were approaching the airport I got a phone call from the doctor at the hospital saying he was at the airport to say farewell to the Stanleys.  I was so happy to hear that because I wanted to update him on baby Grace.  When I asked him if she had Tuberculosis he said yes and also mentioned the Streptococcal Meningitis that they will be treating for the next 12 months.  WHAT!?  The family didn’t mention this nor did they give us any medication!  I told him this and he was very upset. He explained that the child was deathly ill and that the Tuberculosis was not only in her lungs, but also in her brain because of the Meningitis.  Good grief. 

We got to the airport, said goodbye to our friends and then regrouped to discuss the situation with baby Grace.  I just “happened” to have the Aunt’s phone number in my purse so I dialed her number and handed the phone to the doctor so he could ask her where the medication was.  If my heart wasn’t hurting enough at that point, it almost broke when I heard her response.

When the baby was discharged three weeks ago the Aunt had no money to pay the hospital bill so she snuck out with the child.  By sneaking out she didn’t get the LIFE SAVING prescriptions that the baby needed and so Grace has been without medical care since that time.

The doctor was visibly shaken, but was kind on the phone, thanked her for telling the truth and hung up.  He dropped his head and shook it from side to side.  He explained the seriousness of Grace’s illness and said he must see her first thing in the morning. 

Early Friday morning we packed up baby Grace and I drove Thabile and Brooke to the hospital to find meet with the doctor.  After five hours, multiple meetings, x-ray, TB clinic and pharmacies we learned that Grace has two types of Meningitis. One is TB Meningitis (which means she has TB in her brain) and the other is Fungal Meningitis (fungal infection in the brain).  She also has TB in her lungs, which makes her infectious (not highly infectious) and needs to be isolated in the baby home for 2-3 months.  We have to work out how that will happen, but we will be sure that she is well loved.  Grace will take six pills each day for the TB and a different medication for the Meningitis.  The doctor thinks it will be a full year of treatment.   

On the way home we got a flat tire (actually shredded tire) – that just topped off the whole day. 

We do not know if her lung TB is a drug resistant variety so we will take her to have a sputum (phlegm) sample tested on Monday.  We pray that it is NOT a Drug-Resistant type of Tuberculosis as that would give us another level of complication as it relates to the other babies. We don’t want to expose them to that type of TB (or any type of course), but TB is a part of life here in Swaziland.  It is said that 70% of all people living her have active or inactive Tuberculosis and 30% of the population has a Drug-Resistant (or Multiple-Drug Resistant) types. 

This baby is a very sick baby, but we are overjoyed to have the blessing of being able to care for her.  We know that Grace has been brought to us for a very special reason and while we don’t know what that is right now, we are thankful for this opportunity. 

Live from Swaziland … I am taking the day off!


PS - As always, if you would like to support the El Roi Baby Home on a monthly basis please click here and sign up today.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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