Story from the field by CHSC missionary pediatrician Dr. Lindsey Cooper serving at Nyankunde Evangelical Medical Center in DR Congo
Furaha is a special little 1.5 year old girl that we met in unfortunate circumstances.
We were caring for her teenage mother who was suffering from a severe intestinal infection with bleeding and malnutrition. As we see altogether too often, young post-partum women are at an increased risk of malnutrition. We learned that this mother had fled the tribal conflict in this village in 2002 and was probably raised as a toddler in a displaced persons camp around Oicha. She had lived a difficult life already and was supporting a young baby all alone.
Often new mothers are not able to take in enough calories in the post-partum period to feed their infants and remain healthy. This mother was desperately ill and continued to have on-going intestinal bleeding. She died suddenly of complications of infection and anemia. The family left the hospital to bury the mother and care for her baby. Our experience is that this doesn’t usually go well, especially when the father is unknown. Orphan babies such as this have a high risk of dying.
Unsure of where the family lived, we sent Pastor Remy out on a search to find a family in mourning. The first, second, and third trips were unsuccessful. Finally our chaplain found the father’s extended family. It turns out that a pastor and his wife in the father’s family had accepted the responsibility to raise the child. The following day the pastor’s wife agreed to come into the chaplain’s office to see what kind of support they needed.
We sat across from the pastor’s wife holding this little girl. Most toddlers at this age are able to sit independently, talk, and crawl all over the place. This little girl was content to be supported in the lap of her adopted mother, touch, and examine her hands. She seemed completely at peace and unaware of her difficult circumstances. What a grace! What were we to do to help?
This was an infant who never really received significant breast milk. The baby was significantly under-weight and would qualify for a hospitalization. Yet this was a special circumstance where family bonding was so important, perhaps just as important as good nutrition. We agreed to start with initial infant formula (rich in Vitamin D) as an outpatient (in addition to solid foods) and transition to another formula in a few months. With close family follow-up, pastoral visits, and regular weights we felt we would succeed.
One of our pastors prayed over the family in Lingala and the family returned home with a stock of formula to last a month. It is such a joy to see this child find a loving home and an honor to be a small part of her story.