I want to tell you a story.
But first, let me give a disclaimer. I am still learning how to tell stories about children at Tenwek Hospital. Mostly I’ve avoided doing so - as I want to protect the children and their families (rightly so). However, for us to continue caring for these kids we need people to join us through finances, prayer, coming to help and other means. People join in often from hearing stories about what God is doing through Tenwek. So somehow I need to learn how to do both - be protective of these young ones and engage those whom God uses to help them. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously so please be gracious with me as I figure this out. I’ve been talking with other organizations that work with children in an effort to do this well. So names will be changed and some details left out or altered to obscure identity even though I will have already spoken to the parent(s) and older children to have their permission to share photos and stories. Julie helps me with this by sitting with them, taking the time to listen and asking for signed/fingerprinted permission. Hopefully those permissions are more honest than having the surgeon ask for something that parents may feel pressure to say ‘yes’ to. Mostly we will avoid faces and photos that reveal too much. It is our hope that families will approve of any communications we make like this. - Mike
Grace* was first brought to my attention in April. A doctor working with a group in her home country had emailed a friend at Tenwek seeking help for her. This was forwarded to me and a very long story began... I’ll try to give you the highlights.
Grace had a very large tumor growing in her abdomen. Other surgeons had attempted to remove it several times. Each requiring hours of careful surgery. But each time it had come back. This new doctor had helped to get the tissue reviewed at a specialty hospital in the US to see if any new information could be gained about the tumor. They confirmed what was already known.
*not her real name.
We were now being contacted to see what could be done. Her last operation was just weeks before and already the tumor had regrown as seen in the photo above (with permission). I spoke to the last surgeon who had operated on her. He had done a great job but yet it came right back. She hadn’t been to school in a few years due to the pain and difficulty eating and walking. Her life was incredibly challenging. You can see it in her face in the photo...
So I phoned a friend. One of the world’s experts on this type of tumor in children. He didn’t have a suggestion but referred me to another colleague. She too was unsure what to do but suggested another colleague. I happened to have met this last surgeon before and emailed her. She replied right away. She knew what the problem was. She had seen it before. It was very rare. But she could help.
Traveling to this specialist (one of a few in the world who have done what this child needed) would be very expensive. Could we possibly do this at Tenwek??? The surgeon later confessed that when she received my email asking her to come, she felt God tell her to go. So she said “yes”. The organization who contacted me offered to pay for the costs. A list of needed resources was generated and I began to see what we could pull together. I managed about 80%. She said it was enough. Could we possibly fit this into a two day window when the surgeon would have some vacation days?
interpreter, mom, visiting surgeon, me
We then began a lengthy bit of logistics to bring the child to a place to receive good nutrition for some weeks so she could endure the operation. Then the steps to cross borders and take flights to reach Tenwek. Her mom would travel with her along with an interpreter. Everyone needed paperwork. So many details to all work or this small window would be missed...
At the end of June, Grace arrived at Tenwek. We met for the first time. She looked bright eyed and hopeful. But this operation would be very risky and had never been done before in sub-Saharan Africa. There was a chance she could die. We had a lengthy conversation. They seemed to understand. I then asked if they had seen our hospital sign - “We treat, Jesus heals”. Their eyes lit up and the interpreter said “Yes!” They were very excited. They believed the same thing and were trusting in God to care for Grace whether thru healing or not. It was amazing to see. We prayed together and they went off to do a long list of tests to prepare for surgery.
Several days later all was set. The specialist surgeon arrived from the US and we went to meet Grace. After preparations were made, we got some rest for a very, very long operation.
The next morning we began. Grace came to the operating room at 9am. The following day at 7am Grace was wheeled out to the recovery room - 22 hours later.
Grace had endured an incredible operation. The visiting surgeon along with myself and our chief resident spent so many hours carefully removing this tumor. It was very challenging. Then we infused warmed chemotherapy into her abdomen to hopefully prevent the tumor from regrowing. Now she needed to survive the effects of the chemotherapy and recover from this huge insult to her little body intended to help her.
Six weeks. It took six weeks for Grace to recover at Tenwek. There were many challenges. Our team at Tenwek faithfully cared for her day after day. I would come by and try to encourage her and her mom - but the interpreter had to return to their home country as her own daughter had fallen ill (she’s ok now). So without the ability to have extensive communication, we would simply pray together. I can’t imagine what her mom was thinking during that long, long wait.
When Grace was finally ready to leave Tenwek, our chief resident Mark took this picture with her. The former interpreter’s husband then flew to Kenya and came out to Tenwek to escort Grace and her mom back home. Upon arriving there, her mom went straight to their church to thank God. Their village was amazed to see Grace. They assumed she had died after such a long time. So they too were thanking God for bringing her back to them. It sounds like a celebration I would have enjoyed...
Grace is now home. She sent this photo of herself to say “Thank you”. She is so excited. She now wants to get back to school and study. Maybe God will allow her to become a doctor, she wrote, as he used doctors to give her back her life.
*photos with permission
We are gearing up for the Missions Conference at Loudonville Community Church in New York starting this Sunday. If you are in the area this coming Sunday or the next, come on over!! There will be great speakers and lots of missionaries from all over the world. We'd love to see you!
- Mike, Julie, Eden and Caleb
We are in the US for a few months and want to take time to say “Thank you” to all of you who have supported us in being at Tenwek in one way or another. We do hope and plan to spend time with as many of you as we can while stateside.
Moving back to Kenya in 2015 with our family was a big change from being there as a young couple without children. God has helped us to get settled at Tenwek and even gave us a brand new home to live in (if it is in fact done by the time we get back in January!). All of us feel at “home” there and are eager to return.
Our sense is that these first two years back have been a healthy start to our service at Tenwek Hospital. Certainly many children have been helped in surgery - with our first survivors of particular congenital problems now thriving at home. The surgical trainees have learned about the specialty of children’s surgery and together we have struggled with issues of faith alongside one another, our patients and their families. Julie has been able to enjoy serving with the Tabitha women’s ministry and beams when she tells their stories. Eden has found ways to be involved that fit her well and have been a great blessing - both to others and to her parents. Caleb is doing well and God has provided excellent people to care for his congenital eye problem.
So we are grateful to God for his faithfulness and to you - those who have by word or deed enabled and encouraged us to be at Tenwek. We simply want to say “Thank you”.
Mike (pediatric surgeon) and Julie (nurse/mother to two) living in Kenya, East Africa