Baby Barbara

[Here’s a short story that illustrates how one’s world view affects everyday life]

Babies born with deformities in West Africa start life as victims of the West African superstition that abnormalities are signs of a curse. When Barbara was born with a cleft lip that extended up into her nasal cavity, her father pronounced that she was a “demon child.”  He ordered his wife to take the tiny infant into the bush and leave her for dead.

Barbara and her mother

Barbara’s brave mother, Aminata, refused to abandon her child.  As a result, she was thrown out of her house and moved in with her sister.  Without a way to support her family, Aminata was forced to separate her four other children and send them to homes of other relatives.

Broken and devastated, Aminata had reached her darkest, lowest point.  Then God stepped in and brought a ray of light. One day Aminata met a woman who said that Barbara was not a “demon child.” She also said that Mercy Ships would arrive in Sierra Leone in just a few weeks.  Volunteer surgeons onboard the Africa Mercy could fix the baby’s lip – for free!

Baby Barbara has a tight grip!

Barbara’s weight was drastically low because her cleft lip prevented her from getting the nutrition she so desperately needed.  In fact she weighted less than 4 kilograms (8.4 pounds).  On top of that, she had contracted tuberculosis and was placed on a TB program at a local hospital.

Shortly after the Africa Mercy arrived in Sierra Leone, Barbara was accepted for cleft surgery.  However, because she was below the acceptable weight for surgery, she was enrolled in the Infant Feeding Program. Nurse Melissa Davey, of Philadelphia, was able to teach Aminata a different feeding method to ensure weight gain for the tiny child.

Currently, Baby Barbara comes to the ship for weekly check-ups. She is slowly gaining weight, despite all her problems. Soon she should be ready to meet the surgeon who will repair her cleft lip – and “erase” her curse – and give her a beautiful new smile!

Story by Elaine B. Winn

Edited by Nancy Predaina

Photos by Tom Bradley


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