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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baby With No Name

African women don’t always name their children at birth. It lessens the pain when they die. Twenty-six year old Liberian Grace Kurnnah gave birth to a child she was afraid to name. Everything seemed normal at first. The child’s head emerged just as it should, then the shoulders, hips and feet. But there was something more, something attached to the baby at the waist. Whatever it was, it was so large it wouldn’t pass no matter how hard Grace pushed. In a panic, the family rushed her to the local medical center. Doctors there were able to complete the delivery. The otherwise normal looking baby girl had a large tumor protruding from the area of her tailbone. The tumor was larger than the child’s head. The whole family was horrified. They begged the local doctors to help. But after 14 years of civil war, the Liberian medical system is in shambles. They could offer no assistance.
"I was feeling bad. People were saying someone witched (put a curse on) me," Grace recalls of that day. "People (at the regional medical facility) said I should wait three or four months before I take the baby to Monrovia. I said they should give me paper so I can bring it now. They say we can’t do it. I started crying. My husband say, ‘Stop crying girl. Don’t listen to anyone. Trust God. Take the baby and go to Monrovia.’"
Grace set off for the capital. When she arrived at JFK hospital, the nation’s top medical facility, doctors there also admitted there was nothing they could do for the child. They mentioned that a Mercy Ship was docked down at the port & doctors there might be able to offer assistance. Mercy Ships crewmember Samantha Luwizhi was on the dock when Grace arrived. Samantha has a baby girl of her own and loves children. She caught a glimpse of Grace’s infant, just a tiny face peaking out of the blankets.
Grace remembers that moment, saying, "When I see the lady (Samantha) she say ‘Oh! What a fine baby!’ I say the baby not fine-o. I take off the baby clothes. When the lady saw the thing (tumor), she feel bad. She go inside and she bring the man. They give me paper and say come on Monday."
Mercy Ships doctors were anxious to do the surgery as quickly as possible. The tumor was a type that is initially benign, but can turn cancerous in months if not weeks. If Grace had waited till her little girl was older to seek treatment, as had been recommended, the child would very likely have died.
When she arrived back at the Mercy Ship on Monday morning, she was afraid her baby girl was too small and too weak to survive the operation. It was at this point Grace’s encounter with Samantha on the dock proved crucial. When they wanted to take blood in pre-op, Grace just closed down and wouldn’t let anyone take the baby. They called Samantha and said ‘Would you come down to the ward? Grace won’t let us do anything with the baby!’ She went down and Grace handed her the baby. Samantha told her, ‘OK, we’re going to have to take some blood and some other things.' Grace relaxed and understood that she was going to be OK and the nurse prayed with her. She sat with her while the surgery was going on and could tell she was really afraid again. Her breathing was real rapid. Samantha told her that, ‘Baby be fine-o!’ and she settled down a little bit.
The surgery didn’t take very long and the stitched incision on the baby’s bottom surprisingly small. There will be almost no evidence of the birth defect as she matures. When Grace saw the child following the operation, she kept repeating "Tank-ee God! Tank-ee!" over and over again. When the family called later that day to learn what had happened, it was Samantha who got to deliver the good news. "When I told them ‘Baby fine-o!’ you could hear them hollering and screaming and singing praises to God," Samantha says with a laugh. "The Ohma (Grandma) doesn’t speak much English, but she just kept saying ‘Tank-ee! Tank-ee! Wonderful!
When it became clear that the child would survive, Grace decided it was time to give her a name. She asked Samantha to choose one. Samantha told her that was quite an honor but also a heavy responsibility & that she wanted to pray about it for a while. Finally a name was chosen, Viktorya Faith, because she believed God had honored Grace’s great faith with a mighty victory over the child’s infirmity. She thought Grace would appreciate the unusual spelling, Viktorya, and she was right. When she told Grace the name , she was so happy. She gave the baby a pat and said, ‘Baby, you have name! You name Viktorya.’ and she went all around the ward telling everyone about the name. A few hours later back down in the ward, Grace had already got the nurses to change the name card that hung over the baby’s bed from ‘Baby Girl’ to ‘Viktorya Faith,’ When asked why she wanted Samantha to choose the baby’s name, Grace is momentarily overcome with emotion. Fighting back tears she finally answers, "Because she take pity for me. She look in my mind. She take care of me. The baby is for her (meaning: The baby belongs to both of us.). Anywhere I go I will not forget." Neither is Mercy Ships likely to forget Grace or Viktorya Faith. They reminded us that every child deserves hope, healing… and a name.

1 comment:

Liz and Jim said...

Wow, great to catch up. Your blog is very exciting. Glory to God for baby Samantha's story. You guys look great.