Alberta

From the Africa Mercy

“Alberta loves dancing and singing gospel songs,” said Mariah of her five-year-old granddaughter. “She helps me shop, and when I do the dishes, she rinses them. She always wants to help.”

Alberta cuddles up to her grandmother, Mariah, as they wait in Admissions.

Since Alberta was eighteen months old, Mariah has raised her, allowing the child’s young mother to finish her education. Three years ago, Mariah was cooking over an open fire in front of her Liberian home when Alberta awoke from her nap. Still groggy from sleep, the little girl walked too close to the fire, falling near the cooking oil. It splashed over her left arm and leg, up her back and over the back of her head. The fire quickly followed. The little girl’s left arm was terribly burned, immobilizing its position at her side. Her leg, back and the back of her head were also severely burned and scarred.

Alberta before surgery

For the next two years, Mariah searched in vain for someone who could surgically release Alberta’s arm so she could raise it above her head. The frozen arm caused much embarrassment for Alberta at her day care, where the children constantly taunted her and called her names.

Alberta's back before surgery

Mariah is a member of the Eden Church in Liberia, where she coaches football (soccer) for a group called LACES. This group organizes teams for boys and girls, ages 10 and 11, teaching them about Christ through sports. The team members collected enough funds to send Alberta and Mariah to the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship where the volunteer plastic surgery team released Alberta’s burned arm.

Alberta after surgery

A big smile after surgery

Because burned skin and nerves were cut during the surgery, Alberta spent several weeks in recovery. An infection added more weeks of recovery time. But her bubbly personality helped her to make many friends among the crew, including the physiotherapy team that coached her through new exercises and the medical team that gave her post-operative care. Much of that care was painful, but most of the time she remained very brave, generously sharing her brilliant smile and even singing while the nurses applied new dressings. Such behavior is very rare among West African children.

Still smiling, Alberta allows the hand therapist to stretch out her arm wearing the elbow extension splint.

“Sometimes she would fall asleep while I was changing her dressing,” said Nurse Becca Noland. “I love that girl. She’s amazing!”

“I am HAPPY!” said the five-year-old as she approached the end of her stay. “I can play and go to school!”

Out of Post-Op at last, Alberta expresses her joy.

“She’s going to remember this. I will remind her repeatedly of everything she has seen here,” said Mariah. “It’s a miracle of God that she can have this surgery.”

Story by Elaine B. Winn
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell and David Peterson

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