is my neighbor. She is often at our home with her brother, Pierre, and five year old sister, Diani. When Claudina was only a month or two old, she was laying in her bed in their one room home. Diani was only three years old and accidentally knocked over the oil lamp that lights their home (there is no electricity for their home even though they live two doors down from us). The petrol fell on her bed, lighting it on fire. Her mom was outside, but ran in and was thankfully able to save her, but her right arm was completely burned. It is deformed now as the skin continually contracts, thus pulling her wrist inwards towards her arm. If she can't use her hand, she can't write or cook, thus she can't pursue an education, and she has no future.
Three months ago, we were introduced through a friend to Beth and Robert Riviello who are doctors from Boston. Robert is a burn and trauma surgeon. They were volunteering with Partners in Health in Rwanda and while here they also received their adopted son. It was beautiful to witness what they do. When I found out about Claudina's arm, I just asked Robert for his advice since he was here and this is his specialty. He asked me if he could come and see her wounds for himself. He did this the day before they left Rwanda and as they were in the midst of finalizing their adoption. We visited
Claudina, he saw the wounds, and I saw him take his own arm, form it in a crooked fashion and then straighten it out slowly, telling her mother that he would take her arm from its current state and make it whole. I couldn't believe it – what if he couldn't, he was leaving, were we making false promises? But he said no, he had a plastic surgeon friend who was coming in July and he thought he could do the surgery.
This morning we met with that surgeon. He was in Rwanda with Operation Smile, so four months before he'll come back with Partners in Health. Operation Smile was doing a clinic for cleft palates, but he thought they could fit in her surgery and he asked us to come to their screening. I have been to medical clinics in the States, but have never experienced anything like I saw this morning.
not more. Children and adults with cleft palates, a 10 month old whose head had a huge hole in it and whose face was completely burned on one side, overwhelming. I was there with my girls and I had forewarned them that they might see some really sick people. But in the midst of that place, I turned to my girls and said, “This is a place of miracles.” This place is giving people hope, it is changing their lives. These doctors are miracle workers and what was wonderful is there were Western and African doctors volunteering.
They truly are working miracles. Yesterday as I was finalizing pick-up time with Claudina and her mom, Clementine, a neighbor stopped by. Last month a neighbor had told me that if this surgery worked Claudina would have a future. Yesterday, a neighbor came by and said no one would marry Claudina because she was deformed. I didn't know what to say, but I told her I believed that the good husband would see her heart and that we were working to correct her crooked arm. She didn't believe us. I can't wait for her to see the transformed Claudina.
The plastic surgeon told me and her mom today that her arm can be fixed. It will require much aftercare – she will have to wear a splint for up to six months to straighten the arm and she will have skin grafts that will require much attention, but it can be done. Her surgery will be this Tuesday or Wednesday. Her mom cannot believe this is happening.
As Westerners, we often do not realize how much access we have just because of the friendships we have. It was a friend from Boston who connected us to the Riviellos, who connected us to Steve Naum, the plastic surgeon. We are connected to such educated and accomplished people who are using their skills to serve the poorest of the poor. And in return we have the privilege of seeing miracles happen. I am overwhelmed and humbled by that reality.