Nola PaterniAssociate Director, Marketing & Communications (USA)
At the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in Uganda, when the country was in complete lockdown, Joan refused to give up hope. She was determined to find care for her 5-month-old son.
Joan was immediately concerned when her baby boy, Elijah, was born with bilateral clubfoot, despite the doctor’s assurance that his condition could be corrected.
“I would do anything for my baby,” she remembers telling the doctor, although secretly she worried about what treatment would entail and if it would hurt her little one.
Joan heeded the doctors’ advice and started on a journey to correct Elijah’s feet. She first went to Bombo military hospital near her home. They sent her to the orthopedic clinic at Mulago National Referral Hospital, which is supported by MiracleFeet.
Despite the long journey to and from the clinic and the expenses associated with the trip, Joan was pleased with the progress Elijah was making. In late March, they were scheduled to visit the Mulago clinic for his last round of casts before beginning the next stage of treatment.
Then everything changed.
Uganda, like many other countries, went into total lockdown in early April to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I had never experienced anything like it in my life,” said Joan, still perplexed by the weight of the pandemic on her and her community.
When the pandemic hit, it brought fear, confusion, and uncertainty, especially for those in the middle of treatment. Joan couldn’t imagine starting the process over again. So, she set out, determined to overcome the mounting obstacles. Public transportation, which Joan relied on to take her and Elijah the 20 km each way to and from the clinic, was frozen. Grocery stores and shops were closed, and it was unclear if the Mulago clinic was even seeing patients.
Without a car, a bicycle, or any other means of transportation, Joan decided to make the 40 km round trip journey on foot with Elijah on her back.
“I didn’t even know if I would find the doctor, or that my baby would be seen because nothing was normal at that time, but I was determined to try,” recalls Joan.
After hours on foot, they arrived at the clinic, and were relived to find it open. They were seen by a doctor who applied new casts and, in anticipation of pending closures, advised Joan how to remove them herself at home by soaking them in water. The doctor also gave Elijah a brace and instructed Joan on what she should do over the next several weeks to ensure his progress continued. And then they set off again for the long walk home.
“I was very tired when I returned home. Every joint in my body was hurting,” recalls Joan, “but if I had to walk all over again, I would, for my son.”
By early June, public transportation began to open back up with limitations to the number of passengers and distance they could travel, but Joan and Elijah were again able to visit the Mulago clinic for Elijah’s tenotomy—a big development for his journey to recovery, but a terrifying time for Joan.
“I cried at home and wondered if my baby would be okay. Despite the doctors’ assurance, a part of me still thought he would not be.”
The procedure was a success, and, after wearing his brace continuously for three months to maintain the correction, he now wears it only at night to prevent relapse.
Now 11 months old, Elijah is a playful boy with an enviable smile. Joan is profoundly grateful for the treatment he received, and is confident he will soon be able to walk, run, and help her with daily chores. Her hope for Elijah’s future is that one day he will become a medical doctor and provide life-changing care to others, just as his doctors provided to him.