Have you ever experienced a serendipitous moment, where the world converges and everything comes together in the end? A few others and myself are currently in the middle of one those moments; and although this story has a scary beginning, there is hope for a happy ending.
It all started when I was driving to the school early one morning, happily chatting away with the founder of Trinity Dental Clinic Frieda Schmidt, and the visiting dental hygiene students; enjoying what I refer to as my “hour of elation” that occurs each day after I finish my morning coffee. We were bouncing along the final stretch of bumpy dirt road that leads to the school when everyone lets out a gasp.
Emerging from a murky slow flowing creek beside the road is a beanpole of a girl with cheeks that appear to house an apple on each side. She’s holding a worn down toothbrush in her hand, having just come from brushing her teeth.
As soon as the girl is spotted, the truck erupts with highly animated dental “speak” as the group quickly agrees that it’s likely to be a condition called Osteomyelitis – an infection in the bone. I call to the girl, “Fine girl, go get your ma and come back soon, ya. ” while the experts continue their visual diagnosis.
We hastily clamber out of the truck as the girl returns to us, slowly trailing behind her mother Mussu. Mussu informs us that the girl (Maima) was taken to a clinic a few weeks ago and diagnosed with TB from a spit sample. She then tells us that Maima doesn’t have a cough at all and the TB medicine she is taking hasn’t been helping the situation. Mussu also mentions that the pain in Maima’s tooth has been going on for a year now.
Frieda leads a quick inspection of Maima’s face and it’s discovered that she can only open her mouth about 2 cm wide. She eats by squeezing food through the gaps where two molars recently shed. The infection is so bad that its worked its way out four different exit points under her lower jaw.
The students with their fresh textbook knowledge express a concern about the infection killing her imminently, but Frieda reassures them (from her vast dental experience in Liberia) that Maima would be much more listless if the infection was at that level.
The family agrees to bring Maima to the ELWA hospital so a bone biopsy can be preformed then sent to the United States for testing. But there remains one major problem – there isn’t a surgeon in the country qualified to do the surgery.
While discussing what the possible options could be, Frieda mentions that she was just contacted by a maxillofacial surgeon she knows from her days working on Mercy Ship. He recently emailed her to mention that he’ll be passing through Liberia on his way to Guinea in January and was wondering if she had any patients to make a stop in Liberia worthwhile.
It was as though the car physically expanded as all of us breathed out a unified sigh of relief. The surgeon would be here on January 10th and with a few visits to the Liberian Medical and Dental Board Frieda speculated that she could get all of the licensing in place ahead of time so he could preform the surgery upon arrival.
Since that fateful day Maima, Mussu, and myself have been to the hospital numerous times for all the preliminary doctor’s appointments. To add to the serendipity of this story, on her first visit to the hospital Mussu mentioned that Maima had a fever and wasn’t feeling well. While we were at the hospital awaiting her blood tests results Maima rapidly deteriorated before our eyes. The tests came back quickly and it revealed that Maima had 4+ malaria. She and her mother spent the next 24 hours in the emergency room while treatment was administered. Fortunately it was caught early and Maima recovered quickly.
At the moment Maima is on a high dose on antibiotics to control the infection and the biopsy results should be in any day. She is scheduled to arrive at the hospital the day before the surgeon to ensure her stomach is empty and she is ready for surgery.
It may come as a surprise, but Maima is actually doing quite well for a girl with such a serious condition. Her spirits are high and she actually seems to enjoy her trips into town with me to the doctor’s office, especially when we make a stop at the beach to splash around in the waves before going back to Royesville.
So this story with its sad start appears to have the potential to end well. It will be a big month for Maima this January and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on her progress.