Monday, February 1, 2010

The Incredible Feet and Faces of Leprosy

Today we visited a colony affected by leprosy, which means that almost everyone in this cluster of small, poor homes has been outcast by society and has had an almost lifelong struggle with this horrible disease.

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Some had small cement homes donated by Christian organizations and NGOs.

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For 3000 years this disease has been one of the great scourges of the earth.  It is the only disease that I can think of that is mentioned many times in the Bible.

How can I explain all that I have learned today about this disease in one blog post?  Some of this may not be passed on exactly accurately but this it as I understand it: Leprosy is a result of a bacteria which attacks the cartilage, skin and bone and literally eats away all of those things, especially at the cartilage on the nose, fingers and toes, but also attacks legs, arms, eyes and skin as it progresses. It is actually not very contagious very hard to “catch” but some people are more susceptible to getting it because of their genetic makeup.  A cure was found around 1960 and in the 80’s 6 of the ten million people who had it were treated and cured but the terrible after-effects still remain. There are almost no active cases now. 

We entered the colony with a bit of fear, wondering if they would accept us as helpers and not just curious onlookers, but to our delight and thanks to Rising Star who as hired a truly incredible doctor who meets with about 600 people affected with leprosy in this area every month, they returned our smiles and were eager to shake “hands”.Perhaps because they have always been referred to as “untouchables” they are eager to be touched! 

Many looked stoic and resigned. You could see the harshness of their lives in their faces.  Some looked totally miserable but the majority were able to return our “Wanacum” (a greeting used in place of Nameste in the south of India) with a smile.

This was “our team” as we walked into a concrete community hall and set us a mobile hospital unit, with one Indian nurse and two volunteer nurses who just arrived yesterday with this magnificent Dr. Kumar

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This woman was truly incredible!  She had lost both her legs at the knees and rolled herself around on a little roller-scooter with a constant beautiful smile on her face.

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One of the biggest problems with leprosy affected people is that they develop huge lesions on their feet because once leprosy settles into feet and hands, it destroys the nerve endings so they feel no pain. They could walk around for days with a nail in their foot or a piece of glass and never know it.  Lesions develop and then cracks which are almost impossible to heal.  This team goes from colony to colony teaching people how to take care of these horrible lesions and leaving them with little care kits so they can take care of them until the medical team returns.  They even give prizes to those who take the best care of their feet!  These next pictures may be disturbing, but it’s the real world of leprosy. Actually this legion is mostly healed. You can see how far it once went.

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Some of these lesions go right to the bone! 

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They seemed to have no problem with my taking pictures and even encouraged me to do so.  Dad even got a chance to wash the feet of one of these good people in order to be prepared to be bandaged, but didn’t tell me about it to take a picture until he had finished. He was thrilled to be able to help! Here is Suzanne washing one of those very sad feet.

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This woman has lived with no fingers on either hand for 30 years!  Just imagine trying to eat, comb your hair, put on your shoes, do your child’s hair, write, pick up a piece of paper and so many other little daily things….without fingers. They each held their own medical records as they waited in a line of chairs to be seen.

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She was exactly my age!

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The man below has an absolutely amazing story:

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In addition to having a badly affected foot and no fingers, he has been blind for the past 20 years. Dr. Kumar found him and insisted that they do cataract surgery on him at a nearby hospital.  The Doctors there insisted that it would be dangerous to do surgery because he had a lesion on his eye which could erupt and ruin his eye, but this doctor just smiled assured them that since we was blind anyway, that wouldn’t matter.  They again asked why they should do the surgery because he was 80 years old!  They removed the cataract from one eye (the other was irreparable) with great joy he saw his grandchildren for the first time and his wife, children and his own home for the first time in twenty years. He was also thrilled to be able to behold the doctor who had insisted that he should be see! Can you believe that this man is 80 years old?

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He hovered around the doctor expressing gratitude all day! (This occurred in August) When Joyce Hansen, a director here with her husband first saw this man, she immediately took off her watch and gave it to him.  Later when Joyce and Ron were doing a fund raiser in the states, a man in the audience heard that story and took off his Rolex watch and handed it to Ron to sell for Rising Star on the way out the door. 

Oh there were so many amazing stories!  This man couldn’t close his eyes because of leprosy and was struggling with trying to keep them moist. When this happens, they often sew one corner of the eye closed so that they can see out, but can roll the eye to the corner to sleep to save the cornea.

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Others had “bald tongues” which meant that their taste buds were gone. In addition to everything else, many have lost their sense of taste.

This sweet little woman was obviously in pain and was so beautifully dressed as she was unable to close her eyes and tried to close them manually without fingers.  She tottered on her little two little stumped feet and almost fell over several times as she waited to get the medication the doctor prescribed and then was helped out by a friend. 

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Tal was especially taken with this sweet little thing and was happy to have a picture taken with a giant! (Yes, she is standing up!)

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Also Tal and Dad rushed to catch up with this adorable lady with coke-bottle glasses who could barely walk or see but smiled at being surrounded by “trees”!

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Amazing people, each with a horrendous life-story.

This wonderful 27 year old doctor never even wears gloves, makes house calls in the middle of the night and really loves these people who obviously adore him!  His wife is also a doctor and has encouraged him to take this job even though he has been offered other jobs which are much more profitable.  He is daily literally changing and saving lives and being dearly loved by so many! 

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He was so saddened to hear from a 70 year old patient that he was turned away from a hospital two weeks ago when he had a raging fever with malaria because he had leprosy!  Ahhhhh! Life is so unfair!

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3 comments:

the roots said...

wow mom! thanks for putting those pictures up. This is Eli. What an incredible organization to help those people. You can see the light in all of their eyes. Love you guys!

Jonah and Aja said...

i agree with the roots. you are pretty incredible. i am feeling pretty guilty because i am listening to headphones and trying to block out ajas coughing. she must have pneumonia.

Jonah and Aja said...

Jonah: It's okay. Even if it is pneumonia, I'm sorry about the coughing.

Rickey and Linda: AMAZING post! Thanks for spending the time there and reporting back to us. Wish we could be there to help too. Excited to hear more from Tal and Anita too. =Aja