“I’m already healed!”
That is what Aramatou said after her first operation. She was so excited to see a change in her leg, even a slight change. She was happy and excited about the result of the surgery, even though she knew that there was still much left to be done.
Aramatou is from Mali, next door to Niger. Even though Niger borders Mali, she is from a region of Mali which is far away, and Mali is a big country. She had to travel very far to come to the CURE hospital, and she came to find healing.
Our surgeon Dr. Negrini said that he had never seen a case as extreme as Aramtou before, and he has seen a lot after his time here in Niger and before that in Bangladesh and other African countries. Aramatou’s legs were completely bent, which was bad enough, but unfortunately not that unique. We have seen other cases like that at our hospital. But her legs were not only bent, but also completely turned around. Her feet were totally turned around, so that her toes were facing backwards, and her heels forwards. She was able to walk, but it was not easy at all, and even standing caused her pain if she did it for a long period of time.
An American doctor in Mali found Aramatou, and sent her picture to Dr. Negrini to see if he could operate on her. He said that he had never seen a case like this before, but that he would try – especially since we happened to have a visiting orthopedic specialist coming for a month. Dr. Carter came, and did the first operation on Aramatou’s left leg together with Dr. Negrini, so he could see how it is done. Once it is done, he will do the second leg alone.
They cut the bone of her leg in a few places, and then placed an external fixator, so that her leg could be slowly turned. They showed Aramatou how to turn the screw, and she has the screwdriver in her room. Every day she turns it four times. Once her left leg is healed, they will start on her right leg. The estimated time for her stay at the hospital was six months, but it could take longer, since it is such a complicated case.
Aramatou came for healing, and her legs are in the process of being healed, but she was right in a way when she said, “I’m already healed.” When she first came, she was completely stone-faced. She speaks French reasonably well, but her mother-tongue is Bambara, which is very commonly spoken in Mali, but hardly spoken at all here in Niger. So it was difficult for her to communicate with others, and even though another young lady came with her to help her and translate for her, she really kept to herself. She was very serious, and her eyes were so sad.
But it didn’t take long for her to change and for her true personality to show through.
It just so happens that she arrived about the same time as Josh’s aunt, uncle and cousins. They came and worked on a few different projects, like doing a basketball camp for kids, building a wall for a local church, and spending time at the hospital, hanging out with the patients and their families, and loving them. It was so great having them, and everyone at the hospital really enjoyed the activities they did, like sit-down volleyball, different arts and crafts, puppet shows and more.
During this time, Aramatou fell in love with Josh’s aunt, Valarie. From the first time they spent together, it was clear that they had a special connection. Yes, there was a language barrier between them, but no language barrier can stop love. Valarie spent a lot of time just hanging out with Aramatou, talking together and laughing together, and just showing her that she was loved. Aramatou definitely felt this love, and it started to transform her. She began calling Valarie “Mom,” and always wanted to hold her hand whenever they were together. The day of Aramatou’s first surgery, the whole family came to visit her in her hospital bed. When Aramatou saw Valarie, she jumped out of her bed, ran over to her and gave her a hug. They were with her before she went into the O.R. and came to visit her after the procedure. Aramatou was sad when Valarie and the family had to leave, but the love she felt from them didn’t leave her. She told Valarie that she would always keep her memory in her heart, and she has kept a painting they did together hanging on the wall above her bed in the patient guesthouse.
After this healing experience, Aramatou opened up. She is now the most sociable, friendliest person at the hospital. Everyone knows her, patients and hospital staff. She has started learning Hausa, and now makes everyone crack up laughing with her Hausa greetings every morning. She even welcomes the new patients that come to the hospital, and helps them get settled in. Aramatou has truly become a part of the CURE family, and it all started because of the love she felt when she came here. She must have been so uncertain of everything, being in a new place, with new people speaking a new language. But she came because of her hope, and has found healing. She still has a long road ahead of her, more operations, more turns of the screw, casts and then physical therapy. She has already experienced so much pain, and she will pass through more pain before it is finished. She knows. She is ready for the pain because she is ready for the healing. She is such a blessing, and an example to us all.