Sunday, November 25, 2012


By now, many of you have heard of Bernadette, our 4 yo Togolese girl came into HBB 5 weeks ago with vomiting and fever and headache.  While these symptoms are the norm for most of our kids with malaria, her headache pain went beyond normal.  Our suspicions were verified after an emergent MRI in the capitol city revealed a large mass in the back of her brain.  Radiologist in the US were consulted immediately and all agreed that the mass was most likely a pilocytic astrocytoma--a benign tumor.

Unfortunately the location and size of the tumor was pushing again other structures and making it difficult for the fluid in her brain to exit.  This was causing the fluid chambers in her head to get bigger and bigger, resulting in dangerous pressures in her head.

She was started on some medication immediately to try and keep swelling down in her head while we tried to find her a place to go for intervention.  There were many barriers in the way to finding her adequate treatment quickly, since Neurosurgery is for the most part, not available in Togo.

The two options pursued were to find a hospital either in the US or neighboring Ghana willing to take her case.  We committed to following leads fully with both options, until one was clear.  And although it would seem much easier and obvious to send her to Ghana, the Lord kept opening doors for Berna to go to the US.  The hospital I trained at, Kosair Children's Hospital was willing to take the case pro bono, led by the efforts of Neurosurgeon Dr. Ian Mutchnick.  All the other hospital teams that would be needed for her care also volunteered their services.  A charitable organization, Healing the Children (HTC), offered to pay for travel and living expenses. Even obtaining her nationality (something just in Togo), passport, and visa took place in a reasonable amount of time.  It was quite evident the the Lord was sending Berna to Louisville, KY for help.

Plane tickets were booked and plans were made for me to travel with Berna to Addis Ababa on Oct 31st.  We were going to stay for two nights so that a representative from HTC, who was already in Ethiopia, could take her through to the US.  Up until this point, Berna had been able to stay out of the hospital by taking regular meds at home.  Then 2 days before departure, she began having severe pain once again and was admitted to HBB.  It was evident that her health was deteriorating, but she was stable and we were going ahead with the plan since it was her only chance of survival.

We left to spend the night in Lome, the capitol, in preparation to leave the next morning.  Her mom had said a courageous good-bye at the hospital, not knowing if she would see her daughter again.  Berna's pain was harder and harder to control and as she spent the night with me in my room, I passed the hours pleading that the Lord would save her while keeping my hand on her chest waiting to feel the cessation of movement.   I questioned whether or not we should take the flight.  Was I being selfish to take the risk of Berna spending her last moments alive on an airplane instead of in the arms of her loving parents?  What would I do if she died on the plane?  How would she survive the journey to the US without a nurse or doctor with her?

The next morning doubts filled my heart and mind.  But each time I thought about canceling our trip, it seemed like I was saying to the Lord, "I don't trust you."  He had guarded her life up to this point, and orchestrated so many amazing people and avenues for Berna.  I sent some e-mails and let everyone know that I was unsure if Berna would make it alive to the states and plans were made to take her to a hospital in Ethiopia for a smaller operation that could stabilize her so that she could complete her journey to the US. It seemed like I would touch Berna's head and say to her, "Hold on!" while at the same time the Lord would put his hand forth on my head and say, "Hold on!"

I backed her in the African style and we worked our way through the airport.  I got a lot of strange looks as the "Yovo" carrying around a Togolese girl on my back, but my focus was elsewhere.  We took our place at the gate and waited....and waited....and waited.  While time was of the essence, our flight was delayed by over 2 hours.  I sat praying and people-watching, wondering what other people where thinking about.  I'm sure business people would be late for meetings, reuniting families would have to wait, and vacations would be temporarily post-poned.  As everyone was getting more agitated and frustrated all I could think was "Your life will go on.  Late or early, your overall life will go on after this, never to be thought of again.  This girl in my arms is holding on for her life."

We eventually departed for Ethiopia.  I layed Berna down in her seat, head against the window and feet in my lap.  She would never remember this part of her journey nor conceive of the distance we were traveling.  No one would speak her language where we were headed, not even me.  Nor would she recognize the food, the people or even the weather!  She just had to make it there.

Hold on Berna.
Hold on Kelly.