Hello from Benin! It’s hard to believe today is the final day of surgeries! I came aboard the ship in July 2016. In some ways it feels like yesterday and in other ways it feels like forever ago. As I reflect on this time in Benin so many memories of patient stories, rich friendships and a community life experience that is like nothing I’ve ever had before, come to mind. One patient’s story keeps resurfacing and I’d like to share it with you.
It’s a story about a baby girl named, Bignon. I met Bignon when she was about 8 weeks old back in September 2016. It was a busy day in admissions. That morning our small tent was packed with three nurses, three physicians and two dietitians all seeing patients. One of the physicians was sharing my office space, literally using my desk to do an exam because there was nowhere else to go. I was tucked in a small space in the corner of my desk, trying not to be in the way. Lee-Ann (one of our dietitians), poked her head around the curtain and asked me to come take a look at a little girl. I sensed some concern in her voice. And she was right to be concerned. I stepped into their little curtained off area and caught my first glimpse of Bignon. She was a significantly malnourished cleft lip baby (an upper lip deformity). She was lying in a lethargic state across her mother’s lap. At 8 weeks old she weighed in at a mere 1.6kg (3.5lbs). She was clearly dying of starvation and barely clinging to life.
Unfortunately, this is a very common sight in West Africa. Cleft lips are upper lip deformities that affect babies all around the world. But in countries like Benin where there is little to no access to safe, affordable healthcare, these little ones die. In Benin and many other West African nations, the deformity is thought to be a curse so the child is killed or their families leave them to die in the bush. The mothers don’t know what to do. They are discriminated against and their children are stigmatized because of the deformity. As a result, they give their children names like, “forgotten one” or names that mean “trash”. Bignon’s mother decided against this. She chose a name that means “God is faithful”. Bignon literally means, “God is faithful”. Bignon’s mother believed that God would be faithful despite her child’s deformity.
That afternoon Bignon was admitted to the ward. After she started to eat and grow a bit stronger she was discharged. This is when the dietitians stepped in and make certain her mother received dietary counseling to ensure Bignon received proper nutrition. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of admitting Bignon to the ward so she could receive surgery for her cleft lip. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she and her mother walked into admissions. Her mother recognized me right away. She was beaming as she handed me Bignon, who is now a healthy (chunky monkey) weighing in at 7.8kg (17lbs) at 9 months of age.
Its stories like these that clearly remind me of God’s faithfulness. It has been my great pleasure and honor to walk alongside our fearless patients and their families! I am forever changed. To God be the glory forever and ever!
In just over a week my journey home begins. It is so bittersweet. Mere words cannot adequately capture the joy that wells up inside me as I reflect back on the countless memories of my time in Benin. I look forward to telling friends and family these countless memories as they come to mind. Thank you for continued prayers and support! I look forward to catching up with you all soon!