Noella is fourteen years old, born on Christmas Day and has Leprosy. She has lived at the Noel since 1997 and has suffered greatly. She has endured many painful years with truly appalling abscesses and ulcers covering her body. Two days before I left the Noel, I spoke to Noella and the nurse about her situation. Two weeks previously she had been given a transfer note to attend the dermatology department at a hospital in Kigali…….still no arrangements had been made……and for some reason her Leprosy treatment had stopped. I set about trying to get her transported from the Noel and into hospital. It would take far too long to detail all the phone calls, discussions and meetings it took to organise it, but just to say, within twenty four hours, she was in her hospital bed……..and she still remains there today.
After many more emails, discussions and phone calls with different doctors (all which have to be translated between French, Kinyarwandan and English) it was agreed that she did have a rare form of Leprosy and could continue with a twelve month program of MDT Combi; a treatment plan which should completely cure her if the medication is taken consistently and good nutrition is maintained.
I set about buying her bed linen, night wear, and arranging her food whilst she was in hospital. Rwandan hospitals do not feed their patients or supply drinks or even toilet paper.
Families are expected to take care of the patients every need……..you can only imagine the chaos that ensues in hospital wards with food trays, flasks, beds, blood and bandages everywhere. On occasion, scenes from my childhood Ladybird story book on Florence Nightingale come to mind.
Noella has been placed in a side room with a small boy and another man in his thirties-probably because they believe that she may be contagious (not so if you are being actively treated with Leprosy drugs) but rather unfortunate for the boy and man if they are correct!
Eric is twelve years old and malnourished. The first day that I saw him I thought that he had some sort of head injury because all that could be seen of his head were his eyes. When I got closer to him I could just make out that beneath the bandages his nose was missing and his cheek bones were concave. His biopsy shows that he most likely has a rare disease not seen in Europe and with a 90% death rate. The disease has already destroyed his nose and is slowly eating away at his other facial organs. It is truly shocking. I spoke to his doctor who told me that Eric is suffering greatly. They have my number and I have told them that the Point Foundation will do anything it can to help. Sadly I think that a call will not come.
Despite his terrible illness and pain, Eric sits up and gives me a little wave when I walk into the room and I can still just see that his eyes are smiling at me.
Over the last fifteen days I have been able help to provide food for Eric and have bought both him and Noella reading and activity books, crayons, playing cards, lollipops, fruit and juice. One day I asked him what he would really like me to bring him the next day. He picked up one of his books and showed me an aeroplane. The next day I found the next best thing, a transporter carrying two helicopters. To occupy Noella I found a knitting set with brightly coloured wool.
I can’t tell you the joy it has given me to see these two children happily playing with their simple gifts. Eric rejoicing in making the rotary blades spin and Noella eagerly knitting a scarf.
For Eric I fear that his happiness will be short lived. In recent days he has had a fever and despite taking a combination of antibiotics his temperature has remained high.
For the thirty something man, time is short. His wife and family weep and wail at his bedside while he softly prays. Several days ago he underwent an operation right there in his bed. I walked into the room to see the doctor poised with a small electric saw, blood everywhere, no real anaesthetic, and a scene of chaos……..little Eric watched from his bed. We were all asked to wait in the corridor, Noella included, it was after dark when she was allowed to return to her bed. As I left her that night a feeling of hopelessness and despair prevailed.
Earlier that same day I had spoken to Noella about what would happen to her when she was fit enough to leave the hospital. I had suggested to her that I could try and see if I could find a foster family so that she wouldn’t have to return to the Noel; the idea being that she could then go to boarding school in Kigali with some of the other sponsored Noel children, when she was well enough. Her face had beamed at the prospect. I knew that Noella had had a very difficult and tough time at the Noel. She had endured several months of ‘traditional’ clay treatment; her body covered in clay from head to toe for over eight hours a day while being given a diet of raw onion, garlic, vinegar and honey. Can you imagine? This had lasted for many months.
That evening, as I walked back to my hotel talking to Theo, our ‘adopted’ Rwandan son, I was saying to him how strange life was. How, if the fighting hadn’t broken out on the border, I wouldn’t have been in Kigali and I probably wouldn’t have telephoned the Leprosy Program and got Noella into hospital and consequently met Eric. She wouldn’t be making the excellent recovery that I have now seen and her life may have just continued in a cycle of pain and hopelessness.
Theo then told me that during our hospital visit that afternoon, Noella had told him that when she had been traveling in the car from the Noel to the hospital, she had felt in so much pain and was so hungry that she felt that she would rather die. She said that she had gone through so much that she had lost the will to live. Now she felt happy and free but she knew that if she returned back to the Noel it would be the end for her. Her words were chilling. She is only fourteen years old.
Suddenly I knew why I had needed to stay in Rwanda and not return home. Suddenly it all made sense and I knew that I had to do everything in my power to give Noella a chance and a new start.
It has been a long and difficult week but against all the odds I have now found someone to care for Noella for the next six months. She will leave hospital just before Christmas and will stay with this special ‘someone’ until she can start boarding school in January. The day this was agreed, I went out and bought Noella her very own bed and mattress and sent it to her ‘new’ home. I will collect her from hospital next week and I can’t wait.
Sadly for Eric I think it will not be a happy ending but I will continue to visit him and savour every moment.
Seven days ago I was contacted by an online acquaintance who has already helped many people in Rwanda. He told me about a nine year old girl called Alice who had suffered terrible burns to her body and was currently in the same hospital as Noella. He asked for my help to try and get her transferred from Kigali to a hospital several hours drive away, where a plastic surgeon from Europe was working. After many telephone calls, translated discussions with doctors and nurses I was able to make the arrangements and mother and daughter were driven to Gahini Hospital by Patrick. I await news of her progress.