Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Saving a life... with a camera

I love going off the ship and taking photos of people, culture, landscapes, funny things...

It happened 2 weeks ago that I was walking on the streets with my big fancy Nikon SLR when a lady touched my hand. Due to my white skin it happens a lot so first I ignored it. But then a man said "Miss, excuse me". I stopped walking and turned around. A man with broken English tried to ask if I was working with Mercy Ships. I was - and I embraced myself for the next question. "Can you help her?"

No, I cannot. I am not a doctor to begin with, the surgery schedule is full, we are departing soon so there is not enough time to heal and what is the problem anyway?

The man turned to the lady and spoke in a dialect I never heard here before. The lady nodded and brought before me a young girl who hid her face with a huge scarf. She instructed her to uncover her face and suddenly I was starring at a nasty tumor that was growing out of her left eye. Good grief, this thing stinks so badly! I jerked back quickly and looked at the man for answers. It turns out they came from the far away province in hope of some relief and hope. The little girl was in so much pain but she couldn't even share tears any more. She's already forgotten how to walk with her head high up. In only 2 short months she was forced to endure excruciating pain, humiliation and to face death.

To my "trained eyes" it looked like Burkitt's Lymphoma (a very aggressive type of cancer that attacks young children and without treatment it's always fatal), but what do I know, really. Through the translator I told her that the most I can do to her is take a snap and if I get the chance, show it to the screening coordinator. The mum was very grateful, she even smiled at me and my heart broke. I knew we cannot help her...

You think it gets easier over time, but it never does. Saying NO is the most difficult thing you do at Mercy Ships. I have seen a LOT of nasty things and yet, it hits me just as hard each time I see it. How can this happen? What's the logic behind it? Why does this happen to a sweet, innocent child? 

I took a picture of her and tried to emphasize the fact that there is no promise. I am pretty sure that's not what she wanted to hear, yet in that situation she was holding on to that 0.1% chance that I gave her.

I walked back to the ship and went to find the screening coordinator. She wasn't on board. Her assistant wasn't at her desk either. Normally I would have given up at this point, but somehow I felt I need to go the extra mile. I went to the hospital corridor, where we are not allowed to enter usuallly. To my delight I found the assistant coordinator there. She was running late for a meeting, but I grabbed her hand. "Just a second, I have a picture for you to look at".

It only took her a second to confirm my fear. Most likely it's too late... Our schedules are full... Sorry, we cannot help...

And in that very moment Dr Gary walked by! He managed to get a glimpse of the image on my camera and I think his professional curiosity kicked in. :) He asked who she was. I gave him the reader's digest version. Maybe???? Surprisingly he suggested that they bring her in for a biopsy so at least they would know what's that. But again, no promises!

So I left. I have to admit I kind of forgot about her, believing that whatever they found was bad enough and regretfully we cannot help... And days went by. I was busy with my job and her sad story was quickly replaced by many other sad stories we see and hear here every day.

Then suddenly 2 days ago on Monday I was walking in the hospital corridors again and overheard 2 nurses talking about a little girl with an eye problem. I went back and asked for some details. You can imagine my excitement when they confirmed that she was indeed "my" little girl. I begged for permission to go into the ward and see it for myself.

She was playing with some dolls when I entered the room. Her mum recognized me and smiled at me. Then Sia turned around and saw me...

Yes, I had tears in my eyes. Tears of joy. She is alive!!! Not only that, but she was smiling and having a great time. She gave me an awkward hug, probably not understanding why I was crying. :)

I checked with the nurses who told me she was admitted a week ago. Apparently I was correct, it was indeed Burkitt's - the ONLY type of cancer that we can and DO treat. She already received a dose of chemo and she was recovering from that wonderfully. In addition to that she received a surgery as well to remove every trace of the cancer. Unfortunately they couldn't save her eye, but at least they saved her life! According to the doctors the tumor was growing so fast that most likely within 2 weeks she would have died. You get it? 2 weeks have passed by since I took that picture...

She is alive and well and will have a better future!
And it started with me taking that 1 picture...
Oh, how much I love God for allowing me to play a small, yet important part in saving Sia's life!!!!!

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