I'll never forget baby Praise. I met her for the first time in the Chitungwiza Hospital of Zimbabwe. She was one-month old, and was the first child born to her mother. Praise was born with a cleft lip.
I found her serendipitously, as the long Sunday came to an end. The LWR team started the medical screening camp early on Sunday morning, and by 6pm in the evening, we had the first ten patients scheduled for surgery on Monday morning. I went with this list to the pediatric ward. I would need to tell the nurses about when the last time children could eat and drink prior to their surgery.
After I spoke to the nurses, one followed me and asked if I met Praise. "She did not come to the camp, but she was born with a cleft lip and is a patient here now," the nurse explained. I followed her to the separate closet-like room which held 4 children in their small cribs. The nurse translated for the mother as I requested permission to see baby Praise. I showed the mother Philip's album. I told her that Praise would need to be older and healthier, but her surgery could be scheduled for a later date. She gave me permission to come on Monday and collect the information I would need for Praise's chart.
We were so busy Monday with all the preparations and all the last-minute details. I could not get to the pediatric ward until late in the evening. Finally, I took the blank chart that I would need to review with Praise's mother, and I asked the nurses to guide me to Praise. "She has expired, " the nurse said. I looked in confusion. I had just met Praise less than 24 hours ago. What had happened? The nurse would only repeat, "She is gone."
I later learned that Praise had aspiration pneumonia. The number one killer for children with clefts, especially in the developing world. My heart broke for that dear mother. She came in search of help with her newborn baby. She left the hospital with empty arms.
One of the local ladies who often translates for me later told me this. In our world, sometimes we just look at the face of these children and think, they won't survive. Why waste the resources on them, when another has a greater chance for survival?
I can cry about our timing. Perhaps LWR should have come a month earlier. Why didn't the medical equipment sponsors bring supplies sooner? There are no consoling answers in this. But we must not be overwhelmed or discouraged.
September is Craniofacial Acceptance Month. A month designated to honor those born with such birth defects. To tell them, no matter what, you are loved! You are worthy! And I believe in you.
Will you help me share this message? Let's work to honor the life of Praise, and those who have no resources but are struggling to survive. Let's keep working...
Until the World is Cleft Free!
To give in Praise's memory during the month of September, give safely on www.lovewithoutreason.org