Hanahi is a 3 year old boy from the town of Aguie. When he was 6 months old he crawled into a pot of hot food and severely burned his hands and chest. He is an only child, and when his father saw that he was burned so badly, he divorced Hanahi’s mother and left them both. Hanahi and his mother moved in with his grandmother, and that is the only family he has ever known. His grandmother came with him to the hospital, and they both stayed over the course of a few months so that he could receive multiple surgeries on his hands.
Little Hanahi has more determination and drive than I’ve ever seen in a 3 year old. As I write this, I laugh to myself because I realize that I say very similar words about almost every kid I meet at the hospital. The fact is I’m blown away, time and time again at how much these kids endure and time and time again, by how extremely hard working and tirelessly ambitious they prove to be.
When Hanahi was burned, he literally burned most of his fingers off. As is so often the case here, he was immediately taken to a traditional healer and had his hands wrapped in gauze without really treating his wounds. So when the bandages came off, not only were his wounds untreated, but what was left of his fingers was fused together because they had been wrapped up together tightly in gauze. At CURE he had a series of different surgeries and skin grafts to free what’s left of his fingers so that he will be able to use them. The guiding principle of our hospital, especially when it comes to burn contractures, is function over form, and Hanahi is a perfect example. We don’t have cosmetic surgeons and we don’t do cosmetic surgery, so the end result may not look so amazing (there may still be a lot of scar tissue, and the burn may still be very noticeable), but the goal is not to make it look good. The goal is to free up whatever extremity has been bound by the burn. In French they call it a libération, and I think that is perfect. It is liberating for the patients, in every sense of the word, and it is amazing. Giving Hanahi the ability to use his hands and fingers for the first time in his life is amazing, and it was amazing to watch him discover this ability.
Once Hanahi could pick up things like markers and crayons, he started drawing non-stop. It wasn’t easy for him, but that did not stop him. It would take him a while to pick up a marker. He would first grab it, and then work to get it between his fingers, with the right side facing down, usually using both hands and his chest. Sometimes, after going through this whole process, the marker would fall out of his hand, but he never got frustrated or gave up. Instead he started the process all over again, as fervently, and with as much excitement as before.
Hanahi would get so excited when he would step back from his drawing and see what he had accomplished. For him, the lines on the page were more than just scribbles. They were signs of his determination to succeed in spite of all the obstacles he faced. He faced pain from all the surgeries, and pain from the dressing changes. He faced the physical difficulties of holding onto a marker and trying to make marks on a page – something that should be a simple, easy task, but for him was an enormous difficulty. He faced the challenge of failing, sometimes over and over again. But through it all he was never discouraged. In fact, he was always really excited and happy! And when he would finish for the day, often after more failure than success, he didn’t sigh with exhaustion. He would squeal with an infectious laughter.
Although he isn’t able to use his hands the way he would if he had all of his fingers, he is able to do just about anything he needs to do, even if it isn’t easy. He knows that with persistence and hard work, he can overcome any obstacle, and he doesn’t give up. He was abandoned by his father, because his father thought that he was “ruined” because of his burns. He thought that he would never be able to do anything, that he would be a burden on everyone for the rest of his life. Now that he has had his surgeries, Hanahi is able to do a lot of things with his hands. Far from ruined, he is full of potential, full of joyful energy, and as colorful as the drawings he did.