Fitia let out a soft cry, reaching out for her mother’s hand as the pain around her chest and neck became more unbearable. Her parents did all they could to console their two-and-a-half year old daughter, who was lying listless on the bed. A soft hug, a stroke of her hair and whispers in her ear of how much they love her were all they could do. Over the past several weeks, Fitia’s parents had watched their daughter succumb to burns on her chest and neck. They were powerless to stop it and repeatedly blamed themselves for it.
Just a few weeks earlier, Fitia was as rambunctious as any normal two-year-old. She loves people, exemplifying her Malagasy name, which means “love.” However, one afternoon, as her mother prepared a meal, Fitia’s rambunctious nature led to a tragic accident. In a split second, she fell down on a pot of boiling soup, burning her chest, neck and face. In a developing country like Madagascar, where medical care is not easily accessible, Fitia’s parents tried everything they could afford – but it wasn’t enough. They were given a salted serum that made the little girl shriek in pain. Traditional healers sold them medicines that had no effect and finally suggested that Fitia’s parents spit into her wound each day. Three months later, Fitia was in agony, and her parents realized she would not recover without specialized medical help.
Fitia’s mother prayed for a solution – and, at her moment of greatest despair, she heard the answer to her prayers. A team from Mercy Ships was visiting Mahajanga, a coastal city in northwestern Madagascar that was 200 kilometers away from their village. For months, Fitia’s family heard about the foreign medical workers from Mercy Ships that came in a hospital ship to Madagascar. They heard about the free miraculous surgeries taking place onboard the ship. Fitia’s mother knew that if anyone could help, it would be Mercy Ships.
Courageously, Fitia’s mother made the journey to the hospital in Mahajanga where she was received by Screening Supervisor Mirjam Plomp. Mirjam, who is a volunteer nurse from the Netherlands, listened to the mother’s story and determined Fitia’s case was complicated. The Mercy Ships plastics program is normally focused on restoring functionality to individuals one year after a burn has taken place. Fitia’s burns were still very recent. There was the added hurdle that Fitia needed to be kept in an isolated, sterile environment. Mirjam contacted the Africa Mercy to discuss Fitia’s case with hospital leaders and surgeons.
The Mercy Ships screening team made arrangements to assess Fitia at her home – and it was an overwhelming scene. They entered the home to find Fitia lying on a bed in the living room. She was wearing only her shorts. It took less than a moment for the medically trained eyes to focus on the “monster” growing on Fitia’s chest. A thick green crusted mass covered most of Fitia’s burn wounds on her right upper chest and neck – the result of an infection breaking the skin down and forming a layer of dry skin and puss over the wound. Mirjam assessed the child’s condition: “At best, the prognosis was a burn contracture. At worst – sepsis and death.”
After working out a plan for a sterile environment, Mirjam received approval to bring Fitia and her mother to the ship berthed in the port city of Toamasina. Knowing that Fitia needed immediate medical treatment, Mirjam enlisted the help of local partner Mission Aviation Fellowship. MAF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating, among many things, medical care for people who live in remote regions of Madagascar, where the roads are non-existent. Pilot Josh Plett arranged for an immediate flight for the screening team as well as Fitia and her mother to Toamasina. What would have taken days by an uncomfortable car ride on unpaved and broken roads took less than two hours by plane.
Fitia was placed in isolation on the ship to prevent the spread of infection not only to her but also other patients. She underwent surgeries to clean the burn and was given a strong dose of antibiotics to fight the infection ravaging her body. Combined with good nutrition and the great love and care that Mercy Ships nurses are known for, Fitia’s mischievous personality very quickly came back to life.
During the darkest moments in the months that followed, Fitia’s mother boldly prayed that she would be able to see Fitia grow up. It was a courageous prayer at a time when so many friends and family members said that the little girl would surely die.
But, thanks to the partnership between MAF and Mercy Ships, Fitia’s mother now has hope for the future. She hopes that her daughter will pursue medicine and give back to others.
Mirjam shared that the Fitias of the world make her job the best in the world. “What a blessing to be able to work together with MAF to make these things possible,” she said.
Story by Tanya Sierra Edited by Nancy Predaina Photographs by Josh, Callow, Katie Keegan, Deb Louden and Ruben Plomp
Fitia’s family had a desperate plea. Could we help the two-and-a-half year old that had recently been burned in a cooking fire? Fitia’s burns were severely infected and she needed immediate medical help or she would not survive.
Fitia arrived on the Africa Mercy on the very last day of January 2015 and was a patient with us until the very end of the Madagascar 2014-2015 field service. The plastics volunteer team had a tall task to fill with the first order of business to clean and bring Fitia’s infected burn wounds under control. To prevent the risk of further infection, Fitia was isolated from other patients while she received her initial treatment.
Three months of treatments, which included receiving wound cleanings, bandage changes and skin grafts, Fitia was well enough to be discharged to the HOPE Center where she continued her recovery.
Fitia gives a warm greeting to Screening Supervisor Mirjam Plomp (NLD) during an outpatient’s appointment. Mirjam and the screening team visited with Fitia’s family at their home in Mahajanga in January to assess her condition and determine the best course of treatment for Fitia.
Fitia (front and centre) and her family visit with Mercy Ships screening team members Nate Claus (USA), Mel Toh (AUS) and Ria Bos (NLD) at their home in Mahajanga.