We're at the beginning of week four of our time here in Benin; the screening team finished three weeks of selection days here in Cotonou, and surgeries have now started!
As a new outreach begins, Nick and I have also been reflecting on the amazing 10 months we had in Madagascar. We miss our friends there. This time one year ago, everything was so new: we had just arrived in the country, just met the our local partners, and were only just beginning our journey together. For the next 10 months, we would work side by side to build up a clubfoot clinic, ready to take in new patients from the Toamasina area.
Today I want to tell you a story about a moment when we were able to see the fruit of this work together while we were still in Madagascar.
One day in March or April we were at the clinic. The last casts were being put on the last patients of the morning. By this time the clinicians were very competent in applying plaster casts to clubfeet. The Ponseti method is a very hands-on technique, and it takes time, practice, and mentoring to reach a level of proficiency. More than 6 months into the program, the clinicians were seeing patients on their own and Nick was just providing occasional tips and input, and giving guidance with the more complicated feet.
That morning, when all the other patients had left, a new family was ushered in to the clinic. At the middle of a big bundle of blankets was a newborn baby girl with two little clubfeet, less than a week old. Young parents with their first baby.
One of the therapists sat down with the family and began asking them questions: Any complications with the birth? Any other clubfeet in the family? Any other health concerns that they know of? She filled out a health history and examined the feet. The doctor came over and examined the feet as well. Yes, these are clubfeet. Yes, we can help you.
The team proceeded to discuss a treatment plan with the parents: that they needed to come for casting every week, she would need a minor procedure in the doctor's office with local anesthesia, and that their child would need to wear braces on a special schedule. When the conversation was finished, the family left with an appointment to return to the clinic the following week.
So many beautiful things that happened in this interaction: When the baby was born, a midwife told the family to go to the clubfoot clinic. The clinic was completely prepared to receive this young new patient. The family was given accurate information about what to expect, and that their child could easily be treated and live a normal life!
All the pieces fit together so that this little baby was able to receive safe, correct and on-time treatment. Her parents didn't spend the first years of her life wondering if she would ever be able to walk normally. She won't even remember that she ever had a deformity.
And the most beautiful thing: we didn't have anything to do with it. This patient was not a Mercy Ships patient.
At that point our work was nearly finished. Clinically, the team was doing wonderfully. Long term plans were falling into place, and an organization called Miraclefeet became involved in supporting the clinic so that treatment will be accessible and affordable to as many families as possible.
New patients are being treated. Long-term support and partnership will come from Miraclefeet. Andrianina, who worked with us as a Mercy Ships interpreter (and did SO much more than interpret), now works for Miraclefeet. We are so very proud of the accomplishments of the clinicians we met and worked with. They have become experts in clubfoot treatment in their country, and I know that God will use their skills to touch many many families in the future. We are privileged and thankful to have worked alongside them, and to call them friends!
In the months before we left, Dr. Edouard kept telling us "I'm not worried, I know you will come back. This clinic is like your child and you will come back to see how it is growing." We certainly do want to go back to Madagascar. I don't know when it will happen, but I believe it will. :)