There is so much I could tell you about what happened in the life of the Ghana Health Team today. Instead, I feel compelled to tell you about one little boy. His name is Bernard.
Bernard is seven years old and he has a massive umbilical hernia. The protrusion coming off his abdomen was so large he could not even run. He could not go to school because the other kids bullied and beat up on him due to his deformity. His father died, and his mother needed to work all day on the farm, leaving him to fend for himself during the day.
Ernestina, our dear health care colleague, was visiting the Eastern Region of Ghana when she saw this boy roaming the streets. She was concerned about his protruding abdomen and asked the women in the community about him, “He is a bad boy. He runs with the bad boys”, she was told. Ernestina brought the boy to see her, realized this deformity was a massive hernia and sent for the mother. She had taken Bernard to three hospitals, but the surgery to repair the child’s hernia would cost her over a year’s worth of wages. She would never have these funds. Ernestina and her husband decided to pay for transportation so that they could make the eight-hour journey from Eastern Region to Carpenter. Bernard was seen by our surgical team and had his hernia successfully repaired on Thursday.
On Sunday at church, there is always a time for people to share testimonies about what they want to thank God for. Bernard’s mom walked to the front with him trailing at her side. He was stooped over and walking slowly from the pain from the incision stretching across his abdomen. With Ernestina translating, Bernard’s mother gave a special testimony thanking God and NEA, and the team for intervening in the life of her boy. She had lost hope that she could give her son a meaningful life and now his life is changed forever.
Bernard continues to recover on the compound. Every night, Ernestina moves a mattress onto the floor of her tiny room where he and his mom sleep. Ernestina will accompany the child back to Eastern Region after our mission is over and has decided to care for him during the day for the next two months so that his mom can continue farming to feed the family. When I thanked Ernestina for all she did and will do to help Bernard, she just shook her head and said, “He will be a meaningful person”.
Bernard’s story and Ernestina’s role in it, speak to me in so many ways. It is a reminder of the great health disparity that exists in our world that we can so easily forget about. No seven-year-old child would be in this predicament in any of our home countries. It is a reminder that every life matters, is of great value, and deserves an opportunity to live a meaningful life. It is a reminder of the incredible care and compassion that Ghanaian health professionals like Ernestina show towards their patients and their willingness to make personal sacrifices for their well-being.
I was trying to imagine Kim and I pulling a mattress into our room every night on this busy mission for a mother and child to sleep on. It is a reminder that poverty is complex and that many interconnected challenges impact health.
I found myself thinking about this boy and Ernestina all day today. Will their story change how we see the world? Will their suffering change how we live our lives? Will it change how we practice medicine? Will the solidarity that continues to grow in our hearts toward the people of Ghana fade when we return to our busy lives at home?
A John Wesley quotation delivered to each team member settled my troubled heart, and these words often prevent me from feeling paralyzed by the overwhelming wrongs in this world:
Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.
This little boy has given us a lot to think about.
Dr. Jennifer Wilson, MD, CCFP(EM), FCFP, DIMPH
Bernard’s story and photos are being shared with permission from Bernard’s mom.