A Mother’s Love Unlocks a Life of Opportunity
Bridget hasn’t forgotten how she felt when her son Elijah was born and feels compelled to help other mothers going through the same anguish.
“Whenever I see a child with clubfoot, whether in the taxi or in my village, I talk to the parents and encourage them to take their child to the clinic. I sometimes show them pictures of my son. If the child is not treated, they will endure many hardships and discrimination. This condition can be treated, it’s not permanent.”
When Bridget gave birth at Nkozi Hospital in eastern Uganda, her mother was with her in the delivery room and was the first one to see baby Elijah. She was excited to meet her grandson, but immediately noticed that something was wrong.
“We cried a lot, we were scared,” said Bridget, recalling the emotional first days of her son’s life when she learned he had clubfoot, a severe birth defect that can be stigmatizing for parents. “So, I hid Elijah. I didn’t want people to see him because the villagers thought it was a curse.”
Misinformation and myth continue to swirl around clubfoot despite concerted efforts of awareness raising and community education. Since the exact cause is unknown, the idea that clubfoot is a curse or an indictment of the mother has taken a strong hold in many areas causing extra hardship for mothers who blame themselves or are blamed by others.
Where there should have been joy and delight, Bridget was instead filled with fear, guilt, and a sadness that eventually compelled her to investigate treatment options. She soon learned that the condition was called clubfoot and it was in fact, not a life sentence, but could be readily treated and at no cost to the family. Treatment was available at the Mulago Hospital—only a short distance from their home. Their treatment journey began when Elijah was two weeks old.
“Luckily, we were able to start treatment right away. We met Diriisa at our first appointment and returned regularly as he advised.”
Diriisa Kitemagwa, a.k.a. “Mr. Clubfoot,” as his patients affectionately call him, is an orthopedic officer at the Clubfoot Clinic at Mulago Hospital. Diriisa has dedicated his career and much of his life to helping children with this congenital condition that affects about 2,300 newborns every year in Uganda. In addition to treating patients in the clinic, he also regularly visits them at home to check on their progress and offer any needed support.
Finding treatment is part of the battle, but completing it takes determination.
“When we went to Mulago, it was not easy for me,” admits Bridget. “As they were casting Elijah, I was crying, afraid that he was feeling a lot of pain. The doctors consoled me and assured me that he would be fine.”
Bridget formed a strong bond with the doctors and medical staff at the Mulago Hospital and, even when she and her family moved from Kampala to Jinja (about a two-hour drive away) in the middle of Elijah’s treatment, the team worked with her to ensure Elijah completed the multi-year process.
Today, Elijah is a strong, active, and helpful three-year-old. When he’s not riding his bike, playing football, or dancing, he’s helping his grandfather with the family cattle ranch. Although he still wears a brace at night to maintain the correction, he puts it on himself, willingly, as part of his nightly routine.
“We used to wonder about what our son’s future would be like without proper use of his legs. Elijah can now play like other kids and can do everything like other normal kids…and even does certain things better,” his mom says looking towards Elijah with a glowing smile.
“Elijah is a good boy. He loves fellow children, he is so healthy. We are so proud of him.”
Bridget is also supremely grateful for the medical treatment Elijah received and the support she received from the staff at the Mulago Clubfoot Clinic.