When MEDLIFE began mobile clinics in Tanzania we encountered many new medical situations, firsts and opportunities to show how we care. None a more heart-wrenching and ultimately inspiring patient than in the 14-year-old orphaned girl Mwajabu.
Mwajabu was brought to my attention after our August clinics as a potential Follow-Up patient. Although leprosy has been eradicated in nearly every country, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that there are still cases found in some parts of Africa and Asia. Mwajabu had suffered from leprosy nearly six years ago, but due to lack of proper follow-up care she was suffering due to extensive infections in her left hand, untreated burns and pain. Mwajabu had not been able to use her left hand for more than two years and had given up on school.
When I met her, her pointer and middle fingers were swollen with infections and her fingers were nearing contracture. Her left hand was no longer able to open or flex. Mwajabu said she was teased by other students and teachers in school because of her hand, so she left and only attended small local study sessions. When I met her she concealed her hand in her long head scarf and kept it close to her body at all times. It wasn’t until after lots of encouragement and reassurance that she finally revealed her hand. She felt ashamed and we knew we had to do something to help her.
Living in a small, predominately Muslim slum area in Moshi with her grandparents, Mwajabu lives without electricity or running water. She was taken into their home after being orphaned when she was very young. Her grandparents support her as best they can, but without jobs they struggle to meet her needs. Mwajabu also need to overcome her environment, as her community is not in an area that inspires hope. Her home is surrounded by poverty, joblessness and illegal liquor dealers who sell cups of hard liquor for 15 cents. These liquor dealers make it impossible for her to move freely and comfortably around her home by mid afternoon due to the state of the people around her.
We knew that this little girl, who had been robbed of her smile and turned inward, deserved better than what she was given. The first day we met her, we took her to the hospital in Kibosho, one of the largest hospitals in the Kilimanjaro region. After making arrangements, she was seen by two MEDLIFE clinic doctors, as well as a doctor who specializes in Leprosy. They designed a personalized plan that would involve medicine, some minor procedures, physical therapy and lots of home visits. That very first day she underwent her first procedure to relieve some of the swelling and infection. When we returned home, Mwajabu excitedly explained all the doctors and attention she received to her grandmother who was in disbelief and frankly so were we. The same girl that was lost in the mix in Tanzanian government hospitals now finally had a plan to get better, and most of all, had the optimism and excitement a child should have.
Over the course of the next three months, Innocent Massawe, a MEDLIFE clinic leader, and I visited Mwajabu’s home three times a week, assisted with physical therapy, changed bandages and took her to the hospital weekly. With each visit we grew closer with her grandparents, met neighbors, shared meals and slowly got to know the shy reserved Mwajabu who had finally revealed the beautiful smile she had been hiding. Along the way, we discovered that this girl is charming, caring, sarcastic and just as sassy as any other 14-year-old girl. She would tease me as I changed her bandages and play jokes on me as we conducted her physical therapy.
After her last scheduled physical therapy session, her doctors said that it was no longer necessary for her to visit weekly. We would continue to do physical therapy and monitor the hand, but she had regained most of the movement in her hand. When I asked Mwajabu how she wanted to celebrate she said one thing, “I want to eat pizza”. So we went to the best pizza place in Moshi, talked, ate pizza, joked and celebrated. We returned home with Mwajabu and shared the news with her grandmother. Her grandmother was in tears, not just because Mwajabu had regained the ability to use her left hand but because Mwajabu now has the desire to go to secondary school. She no longer fears ridicule from students or teachers and has the dream to one day become an accountant.