Tragedy gives way to hope for Jonathan and his family in Sierra Leone

April 10, 2023

A country reeling from a devastating ten-year civil war. An Ebola epidemic. A high-risk pregnancy. Twin babies, both born with clubfoot. This was the setting for Jonathan’s arrival into the world.

As she neared the end of her pregnancy, Anicka started feeling ill. Normally, if not for the threat of Ebola, she would have delivered at home. Instead, she spent the final weeks of pregnancy in a government hospital in the Bo District of Sierra Leone until finally giving birth to twin boys – a surprise to everyone. Also a surprise: both babies were born with clubfoot. Tragically, one of the twins passed away soon after birth.

Anicka’s husband John was back in their village preparing for the baby when he got the call and rushed to the hospital. He learned about the twin babies, only to then learn only one survived. During the Ebola epidemic, no one was allowed to touch the deceased baby’s body for fear of contagion so by the time John arrived at the hospital his child was gone, buried by strangers.

“I did not see his grave,” John says. “To this day, when I sit and think about him, it saddens me.” In a stupor of shock and sorrow, John turned to his surviving son, Jonathan, noticing his small feet severely twisted in and up. He wondered if this child would ever manage to stand or walk.

Anicka and John were eventually discharged and returned home with their newborn, but the harrowing experience at the hospital and the loss of Jonathan’s twin left them both traumatized and grieving. Even so, their pain was far from over.

Villagers told Anicka and John that their baby was a devil. They said he must have killed his own twin, and that Anicka had given birth to a demon with bent legs.

“On every single corner they were gossiping,” Anicka remembers. “One of my friends was pregnant and she didn’t want to hold my child, saying he is evil and she didn’t want to give birth to its kind.”

The hateful comments devastated Anicka, who hadn’t even yet physically recovered from giving birth, much less the loss of her other baby. She was heartbroken, discouraged, and began quarreling with other women in town when they told her that her son would never walk and that his legs would always be that way.

It was Jonathan’s uncle who brought a ray of light to their darkest days. After hearing of his nephew’s condition, he called John and told him not to worry, “I’ll find a solution,” he promised his brother, “just be patient.”

John’s mother also offered the couple support and encouragement. “Let not your heart be troubled,” she said, “this child is a twin and, as he grows up, his feet will straighten.” She began using traditional medicine, grinding herbs into a paste to apply to Jonathan’s feet. But as time passed, there was no change.

As the months dragged on, Anicka and John struggled to keep from falling into despair. The stress and uncertainty around Jonathan’s future caused them to argue. Eventually John decided their only option was to bring Johnathan to church and ask a pastor to pray for him. For over a year, John regularly brought Jonathan to church, but there was still no change.

Nearly drowning in grief, Jonathan’s mother became more and more distant and detached and eventually stopped searching for a cure. Her mother-in-law encouraged her not to give up. “You might not know what he is going to be in the future with these feet,” she told her.

The sound of hope on the radio

One day, John received a call from his brother saying he heard news on the radio that clubfoot can be treated. “John,” he said, “I have seen where they treat those feet. Bring Jonathan and let’s take him!” John set a date to take Jonathan to the Bo Government Hospital as his brother requested.

When they arrived at the clinic, a woman named Aunty Adama examined Jonathan’s feet and said the words the family had been waiting to hear for years: they could treat Jonathan. He would stand straight on his feet, and the treatment would be provided for free. For the first time in a very long while, Anicka smiled.

The family moved to Bo for the duration of Jonathan’s treatment. They adhered to every instruction from the doctors, and eventually, the impossible became a reality. After a series of casts and over just a matter of weeks, Jonathan’s feet straightened. When the news got around that Jonathan’s feet were corrected and that he was able to walk and run, people from their village began calling John non-stop asking if what they heard was true, even begging John to bring Jonathan back to the village so they could see the incredible transformation for themselves. John also received calls of another nature – from other parents of children living with untreated clubfoot asking for help and advice.

“Sadness is a wall between two gardens”

Ironically, it was through great tragedy, both nationally and personally, that treatment was available for Jonathan. In the years after the civil war in Sierra Leone, the need for rehabilitation services was unprecedented, and these services became available throughout the country. Sadly, Jonathan’s uncle, after finding treatment for his nephew, passed away just before Jonathan’s fifth birthday so never got to see the full transformation.

Today, Jonathan is a healthy, active seven-year-old who loves running and playing with his peers. Treatment not only corrected his feet, but allowed healing and peace for his parents. Seeing Jonathan playing and laughing helped heal the wounds of the past. “Right now, I thank God and the nurses that treated my child’s feet,” says Anicka, “I feel happy now because I see my child is playing. I see him healthy now and he is fine. I am proud of my child.”

Jonathan is living proof that even in dire circumstances, there is hope. Support from loved ones brought about long-awaited change. Rehabilitation centers signaled healing for a nation. A young boy, walking proud on two straight feet joins his friends in a soccer game. That is the setting for Jonathan’s childhood today – a full turn from how his life began.

Jonathan’s video has been selected for the “Universal Health Coverage” category in The World Health Organization’s 4th Health for All Film Festival (out of more than 780 entries!). Please help champion this story and MiracleFeet’s mission by posting a short caption about why this story appealed to you on your social media channels using #Film4Health and tag @MiracleFeet. Select comments from the public will be featured during the Awards Ceremony in early June.

A $500 treatment

ensures children born with this common birth defect are attending school, playing with friends, and pursuing their dreams.