Friday, April 29, 2016

Lalao, Free at Last

We are only allowed to post certain things about our patients in order to protect their privacy, which is why many of my posts are not hospital related. I could tell you hundreds of stories about the patients I've had the privilege to care for in the past 8 months, but to keep to those rules, I will let our amazing Communications Team do it for me! You may not realize that we have an entire team of people who work on the Africa Mercy taking photos and videos and writing patient stories to share with our donors and other media outlets. Not only do they interview the patients and caregivers to find out more details about their lives than I could, they also are WAY better writers :) Now that we've been in Madagascar for a while, we have a pretty large collection of these stories and photos that I plan to share so you can see the impact Mercy Ships has had on this country and people.
This first story, Lalao, is not a patient I had the pleasure to care for, but many of my friends did and I heard about how sweet and beautiful she was. I also chose this story first because it will be a change from the plastic surgery and orthopedic stories I've shared previously. Our last plastic surgeon left in March, so for the past 2 months I've been working with General surgery patients who have hernias, lipomas (fatty tumors) or goiters (enlarged thyroid). These patients don't always get as much attention in the media because their physical transformations aren't as dramatic and they usually only stay with us for a few days. But as you will read below, the impact can be just as great!
Lalao and her husband struggled to make ends meet. Five of their six children shared their one-room home in Madagascar’s capital, Antanarivo. Lalao’s husband worked on a rice farm, and Lalao helped support their family by working in a small local restaurant.
Their financial challenges increased 13 years ago when Lalao noticed a lump in her neck. As time passed, the growth increased in size. Despite the scarf she wore to cover her throat, the café owner dismissed her, saying her goiter would disturb his customers. “That left me in a difficult situation,” she shared.
The ever-cheerful Lalao set her hands to work at whatever came her way – washing clothes by hand, toiling in the fields. Her hard work provided less than one dollar a day, and the exertion made it difficult for her to breathe.
As the swelling at the front of Lalao’s neck grew, so did her anxiety. Sometimes she awoke during the night, choking and gasping for breath. “It affected my breathing. In the beginning, that was frightening!” she recalled. “If I lay flat, my breathing was blocked. I had to make sure my head was upright, and I woke two or three times every night.”
A friend heard an advertisement that Mercy Ships was screening patients for problems like hers, so Lalao went to the medical screening. She received both a diagnosis and a solution.
Mercy Ships could remove her goiter, but the treatment required pre-operative monitoring of hormone and blood levels. So Lalao and half a dozen other goiter patients had to make the trip to the Mercy Ship for check-ups once a month for six months. This made it impossible for Lalao to hold down regular work. Purchasing the tickets for the nine-hour round-trip journeys stretched the family’s finances to a critical level. “I had to travel so many times, and it cost a lot,” explained Lalao. “It was really difficult to lose my job and the money. It was hard for my family to pay for my travel. I did any work I could get just to help.” She even borrowed from her neighbors, who encouraged her to continue with her treatment.
When her surgical date finally came, Lalao sold the last four family chickens and bought a bus ticket to take her once again to the hospital ship.
Lalao’s transformation was immediate and complete. The free surgery removed the goiter which had plagued her for 13 years.
“I feel really free!” Lalao declared. “ I don’t need that scarf any more. I will give to my mother!”
Story by Sharon Walls
Edited by Nancy Predaina