Thérèse’s husband was already struggling to provide for their family when Elisabeth was born with a cleft lip and palate. Neighbours openly laughed at Elisabeth’s face, saying there was nothing Thérèse could do to save her baby. Elisabeth was unable to breastfeed successfully due to her malformed palate, and she began to lose weight dramatically. Even her father thought that she would die.
Thérèse had never heard of anyone having this condition before and had no idea how to care for her tiny daughter. She kept the newborn alive the only way she could think of – by feeding her diluted sweetened condensed milk from a spoon.
“I was really sad because I was thinking about her future,” shared Thérèse. “I had in mind that she would have this problem all of her life.”
Then one fabulous day someone at church told Thérèse the Mercy Ship was returning to Madagascar soon. They were sure Elisabeth’s condition could be fixed onboard – for free! So Thérèse began an anxious wait.
At three months old and weighing a fragile 2.1 kg, Elisabeth was screened for the Mercy Ships Infant Feeding Program. Under further care from dietitian Jillian Davis, it took just eight weeks for Elisabeth double her weight. Then she was strong enough to undergo surgery on her cleft lip, and her appearance dramatically changed. She will continue to receive dietary support until after the surgery to correct her cleft palate, which will take place when she is 10 months old.
“Even though I am poor, I feel a lot of things have gone from my shoulders now,” reflects Thérèse. “Before I was so worried about the future, but now my baby will look like everybody else.”
Thérèse’s neighbours were completely shocked when mother and daughter returned after the baby’s first surgery. Elisabeth looked beautiful. “This is not the same baby! It’s done! It really happened, God was really with them!” the villagers exclaimed.
Story by Sharon Walls Edited by Nancy Predaina Photos by Catrice Wulf, Katie Keegan and Justine Forrest
Thérèse brought her tiny daughter Elisabeth to a Mercy Ships screening because the baby was severely malnourished due to a cleft lip and palate.
Three-month-old Elisabeth weighed only 2.1 Kg (4.5 lbs)
Dietitians aboard Africa Mercy gave regular dietary support to Elisabeth and encouragement to her mother to help the baby gain enough weight to have surgery. In eight weeks Elisabeth was healthy enough to have her first operation – to restore her cleft lip.
Our cleft lip babies are never short of cuddles in the Mercy Ships wards.
Regular check-ups at Outpatients ensure the stitches heal correctly after surgery.
Elisabeth’s little lips are now beautifully repaired.
She needs a second operation to restore her palate, and this will take place after her 10-month birthday.
Safe and snug on her mother’s back – where every African baby feels at perfect peace.