Maima is one of those kids that can eat an incredible amount of food. Last time we ate lunch together I was sure to order her pepper soup; one of the biggest meals on the menu. It’s a small mountain of food with one bowl housing about four cups of rice and a second bowl overflowing with a peppery broth containing every kind of meat and fish you can think of —the perfect meal for this growing girl’s vivacious appetite. As we both started mining away at our ridiculously large lunches I was curious to see how Maima would tackle it.
You see, Maima has a serious disadvantage when it comes to eating these days— she can only open her mouth three millimeters wide. This is the side effect of an illness Maima contacted when she was nine-years old.
I didn’t know Maima when she first got sick, but by the time I met her she had severe swelling in her lower face and the infection was draining out of four exit points in her jaw. Her mouth was already locked shut, but thanks to two molars that had recently fallen out she had a few convenient spots to insert food through. This year those molars have filled in.
On the day of our pepper soup lunch Maima had to focus on eating the soft foods that she could squeeze through the narrow opening. When she eats she does a subtle rolling action with her lips to help slip the food under her front teeth— it doesn’t look easy.
I’ve been working on getting help for Maima for over a year now, but it’s been a slow process. We’ve gone to see a few specialists that were passing through Liberia, but a definitive diagnosis was never given. Fortunately a local doctor was able to get the infection under control and Maima made it through her most vulnerable moments.
Now that Liberia has been declared Ebola free, Maima has renewed hope. Thanks to a kind doctor with the UN, Maima now has a complete medical history of her illness compiled in a paper and electronic format. I have also managed to develop a connection with an organization that does medical missions and there is a distinct possibility that a surgeon in the United States might be able to help her.
Before my new lead will consider Maima’s case they need to see a CT scan. Since Liberia’s medical system can’t provide this we have to send her to Ghana to get the image done. Just this week I got a referral to a hospital in Accra, so I’m currently working on getting the appointment organized and arranging for her passport.
At the moment Maima is a thin girl, but she is lively and healthy. There is a part of me that thinks this is the reality of life in Liberia and she needs to find a way to cope long term, but then I think about what it would be like to only open my mouth three millimeters and I feel compelled to do what I can to help her. (Picture is of Maima and I both opening our mouths as wide as we can)
Think about all those times when you’ve had a head cold and you wake up in the night with your mouth wide open because you can’t breath through your nose. Take a moment right now and allow your jaw to open just a tiny bit then try to breath out of your mouth—it’s not pleasant.
Maima and her aunt are keen to sort this out, so I’m going to continue to do what I can. I’m still not sure if Maima is going to get the help she needs, but after a year and a half of trying I finally feel like we have some momentum. Maima would be grateful for a few positive thoughts and prayers right now and since I happen to be tapped in to the most amazing group of kind-hearted people I thought I pass along her request. If we all focus on Maima getting well perhaps it really will happen.