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Healing Hands

A Samaritan’s Purse medical team brings new smiles to Liberia

Story by Samaritan’s Purse January 26th, 2017

the start of SOMETHING new

God used the skilled hands, compassionate hugs, and professional expertise of our cleft lip and palate medical team to bring new smiles to nearly 40 adults and children in Liberia recently. It was the first cleft surgery campaign that Samaritan’s Purse has conducted in the West Africa nation, which is still recovering from an unprecedented Ebola outbreak.

Kpanah, a shy 50-year-old, was among our first patients in Liberia.
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To be born with a cleft lip or palate in remote parts of Liberia can be a death sentence. Some children are abandoned in the bush; others are simply ignored until they die in the home. For children whose parents or relatives choose life for them, that life can still be quite difficult. There will be social, educational, and health challenges to face if reparative surgery is not performed early in life.

That’s why Samaritan’s Purse spent months tracking down patients across the country in need of surgical care. The free-of-charge operations marked the beginning of a fuller, more vibrant life for dozens of our patients, especially young children. Even those who are older, in some cases already parents themselves, felt a sense of hope and satisfaction at having a new smile.

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KPANAH AND KUMBA

A shy 50-year-old, Kpanah traveled from the country’s north to its south where our medical team was stationed to perform a week of transformative surgeries at ELWA Hospital, outside Monrovia. The hospital was reconstructed by Samaritan’s Purse over the past few years and is run by SIM, the evangelical organization which founded the facility in 1965.

Kpanah was accompanied by her mother, Kumba. When Kpanah was born, Kumba refused to breastfeed her for three days. Kumba thought her baby girl did not look like a human being. Kumba’s mother even told her: “This is not a child. You have to throw her in the bush.”

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Kpanah and Kumba before Kpanah's surgery.
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The next day Kumba had a dream in which Kpanah, the baby, told her, “Mother, you’ve got to take care of me. I did not come to go,” meaning she was not born just to quickly die. Kumba started feeding her.

Kpanah grew up strong and is now married with five living children. Kumba is so thankful that God gave her the strength to provide for her child, because Kpanah now takes care of Kumba—feeding, clothing, and bathing her.

When her Kpanah was wheeled out of the operating room, Kumba soon started dancing and danced all the way across the hospital to the recovery ward.

“Seeing her [Kpanah] coming from the operation room, seeing the face changed, I started rejoicing and praising the nurses around,” Kumba said, “telling God thank you [for] the work of Samaritan’s Purse.”

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NO PLACE TOO REMOTE

With a helicopter and Cessna Caravan based in Liberia, Samaritan’s Purse was able to utilize our mission aviation services team to transport patients to and from Montserrado County where ELWA Hospital is located.

Rural roads in Liberia are difficult, if not impossible, to cross during the long rainy season. It would have taken days for many of our patients in the bush to reach ELWA Hospital, draining away both time and money—an especially disheartening prospect for impoverished Liberians still struggling to recover from more than a decade of civil war (1989-1996; 1999-2003) and the paralyzing Ebola outbreak.

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Philip and his grandson, Saah Philip (purple), were among our first passengers.

“Without aviation, you’re just going to do the program here in Monrovia. That’s it. It’s too hard to get out there. With aviation, you can cover the country,” said Noel Fouts, aviation director and pilot for Samaritan’s Purse mission aviation services in Liberia.

Many of the patients and caregivers expressed sincere thanks for picking them up from remote areas. For instance, Philip and his 4-year-old grandson, Saah Philip, came by helicopter on the first day of surgeries. He had been praying for such an opportunity for his grandchild, and God used our aviation team and medical team to answer his prayers. “I was praying that you people would appear on my side,” Philip said.

Justin Walhoff transported cleft lip and palate patients by helicopter.

The ingathering of patients—by aircraft or otherwise—was overseen by Pastor Love Gibson, Cleft Lip and Palate Program assistant for Liberia. Even some caregivers/patients who were not picked up by plane or helicopter were grateful for the fact that our staff tracked them down in difficult-to-access areas and continued to follow up with them.

“I’m happy that day for someone to come look for me and help the little child,” said Margret, who brought her 3-year-old daughter Hellena for a cleft lip repair. Pastor Gibson found her in New Kru Town, a poorer area of greater Monrovia, and stayed in contact with her so she would not miss out on the campaign.

“It’s never happened like this before. In Liberia, doctors don’t look for patients, patients look for doctors,” Margret said.

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Pediatrician Dr. Greg Adams examines a patient assisted by Samaritan's Purse Liberia staffer Bev Kauffeldt.
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“The reason that we [Samaritan’s Purse] exist as an organization is to share the love of Jesus,” said Kendell Kauffeldt, Liberia country director.
Pastor Love Gibson coordinated the identification of potential patients for surgery.
Our three surgeons—Dr. Bill Rhodes (left); Dr. Jim Wade (center); and Dr. Tom Boeve—examine a potential patient.
Dr. Greg Adams takes a closer look.

SERVING WITH GLADNESS

An 18-member medical team that included three surgeons, several nurses, an anesthesiologist, a speech pathologist, a pediatrician, and others flew in from various parts of the globe to conduct this week of surgeries. They were eagerly received, accommodated, and assisted by the staff at ELWA, including CEO Dr. John Fankhauser; Dr. Jerry Brown, medical director and general surgeon; and Kolu Mulbah-Kamah, nursing director.

Courtney Bell greets Saah Philip.
Anesthesiologist Jan Swan cradles a patient.
Dr. Jim Wade takes a closer look at Hellena.

When Samaritan’s Purse approached the hospital leadership in the spring of 2016 about the cleft lip and palate program, everyone was enthusiastic.

“It fits with our mission. It helps with a need,” Dr. Fankhauser said. “Whenever we’re caring for people who are marginalized by society, I think we’re acting like Jesus did.”

Courtney Bell, speech pathologist, works with a patient.
“It fits with our mission. It helps with a need,” Dr. Fankhauser said. “Whenever we’re caring for people who are marginalized by society, I think we’re acting like Jesus did.”
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The entire week was bathed in prayer.
Nurse Beth Thompson, our cleft program’s co-manager, carries a patient to surgery.
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Isaack Wahome (left), Iyad Saleh (background), and Dr. Tom Boeve during an operation.
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Dr. Bill Rhodes and his wife Laura concentrate during surgery.
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Nurse Shannon Kyle and anesthesiologist Jan Swan wheel out a patient from the operating room.
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“God can use this program to bring hope when people so desperately need it,” Karen Daniels said.
Nurse Karen Daniels, our cleft program’s co-manager, remained focused in Liberia.

HOPE NEEDED

For Liberia, a country badly in need of good news after the Ebola outbreak and so many years of civil war, the weeklong cleft lip and palate surgery campaign brought hope to many families.

“God can use this program to bring hope when people so desperately need it,” said Karen Daniels, our cleft program’s co-manager. Looking ahead to next year’s Liberia campaign, already in the works, she added: “As we continue to focus on those rural areas and develop our capacity for transport and support of them, I think they [more patients] will start to come out of the woodwork.”

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Thomas Kiptoo, a nurse anesthetist from Kenya, served in Liberia as part of our team.
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Nurse John Troke assists Jan Swan and others in moving a patient.
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Martha praised God for what He did for her Augustine.

PRAISING GOD

Parents and grandparents rejoiced to see their little ones after surgery.

Martha, a widow, has been raising her 1-year-old grandson Augustine from birth. Our airplane brought the two of them to ELWA Hospital for his long-awaited and much-prayed-for cleft lip surgery.

She flashed a broad smile upon seeing the boy after surgery and began praising God, raising her hands in worship. When she returned to the recovery ward, she continued to give thanks, saying, “I thank God. He did it.”

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John Troke and Thomas Kiptoo at work.
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Nurses Ellen Hanson and Shannon Kyle look on as a grandmother gives thanks after her grandson's surgery.

FIRSTS IN LIBERIA

The Liberia cleft lip and palate campaign not only marked the first time we used a helicopter for patient transportation, it also became our first opportunity to incorporate Operation Christmas Child as part of the project.

Children received shoeboxes packed with toys, hygiene items, and school supplies, and various staff members were able to present the Gospel at distributions throughout the week. Among those staffers was Daniela Spevak, who once received a shoebox herself while growing up in war-torn Serbia. In addition, many adults and teenagers, whether patients or caregivers, received new Bibles.

Shantel, 3, sits on her father Austin’s lap as she pulls out treasures from her Operation Christmas Child shoebox.

“The reason that we [Samaritan’s Purse] exist as an organization is to share the love of Jesus,” said Kendell Kauffeldt, Samaritan’s Purse Liberia county director. “So, [during] this cleft lip and palate program, we intentionally set up spaces and time and assigned staff just to come and minister—to pray with parents, to love on the children, to share Jesus Christ if they don't know Jesus Christ, to give them an Operation Christmas Child shoebox, to give them a Bible.”

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Daniela Spevak hands an Operation Christmas Child shoebox to one of our patients.
Philip (with hat) received his first Bible through our program, and his grandson received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox.

Patients and caregivers who were flown in stayed at a camp on ELWA Hospital’s grounds. Their host mom was Joyce, mother of 5-year-old Giftey. Joyce has courageously raised Giftey by herself despite the extreme complexity of her cleft lip and palate case. Giftey’s condition needs to be handled outside Liberia, and Samaritan’s Purse (Canada) has sponsored her and Joyce to go to Benin for possible treatment.

Whether at the camp or the hospital, our medical team as well as our national staff had numerous opportunities to minister to patients and caregivers in word, deed, and prayer throughout the week.

Our medical team and national staff helped make our first surgery trip to Liberia a great success.

JUST THE START

Not all of our cleft patients were children. Among our adult patients was Mamia, a shy 28-year-old woman who had a cleft lip revision through our program.

Mamia had a difficult childhood and never went to school. She lived fours years in Sierra Leone as a refugee, and older people used her to beg for food. They figured people would pity her because of her cleft lip.

Five years ago, she finally had her first surgery to repair her cleft. The result was an improvement, but not ideal. So, when a member of Pastor Love Gibson’s church met her selling used clothes in a local market, he referred her to our program. Mamia was among our first patients on the very first day of surgeries.

Kpanah was thankful following her successful surgery.
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Philip reads Psalm 37 from his new Bible.
Dr. Jim Wade kneels beside one of his patients, 9-year-old Emily.

After her operation with us, Mamia was grateful. She has enrolled in adult literacy classes and badly wants to continue her education, now more confident in her appearance.

Pastor Gibson plans to follow up with her progress as with many of our other patients. “There’s a lot of ministry opportunities in this,” he said.


Mamia (in pink headdress) talks with her neighbors after her surgery.

Krubo, 23, had her cleft palate and lip initially repaired as a child. However, she desired a revision to improve the appearance of her lip and nose—an expectation not unjustified or uncommon.

She was quite pleased by the work our surgeons performed, and even more so by the Christian witness of our staff. “I appreciate this,” Krubo said. “They did a good job. What I admire is the ministry side of it.”

Krubo believes the results of her latest surgery will help her as she seeks employment after completing her university studies. She looks forward to the future in the same way she faced the past—“With God on my side.”

Martha and Augustine smile together after his surgery.
Krubo, 23, was one of our adult patients.
Mamia holds one of her school books.

Samaritan’s Purse has conducted hundreds of cleft lip and palate surgeries since 2011, working in South Sudan, Bolivia, and Liberia. We praise God for the many who have experienced physical and spiritual healing through the Christian witness of our medical teams, national staff, and local partners. The next round of surgeries is scheduled for this fall in Liberia. Please continue to pray for this powerful project.

Liberia, Africa
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