We asked some of our medical team participants to share their experiences of treating patients in Malawi and how the Khanda Health Center will impact the lives of this community. Stephanie Graefe, CPNP-AC, has attended multiple medical trips and shared her experiences along with long-awaited anticipation for the health center’s opening.
I have been to Malawi five times now and have seen God working in incredible ways out at Khanda Village. My first trip to Malawi was in 2015 and I joined Lucy at our remote clinic in the village of Khanda. Soon after we started, the suffering and lack of medical resources available to the Khanda villagers was evident. Malaria was a huge problem there, as we suspected, but there were also numerous cases of scabies, diarrheal illnesses, and children suffering from developmental/physical deficits due to birth injury. As someone with a background in pediatrics, the impact on the children really struck a chord with me and I left that year hoping there was more we could do for them in the future.
Over the years, some of the medical team leaders would toss around the idea of a health center, but it felt like some unattainable goal–there was no electricity or running water that far into the villages. Logically there was a lot that would have to fall into place to make this a reality.
In July 2022 I returned to Khanda for the first time since 2015, and we are about a year out from opening the long-awaited health center. During the outreach clinic, it struck me how many children with cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, and failure to thrive presented to the clinic. In one year these children will have access to physical and occupational therapy, mothers will have access to prenatal care and a clinic close by to deliver, and life-threatening infections will be managed before serious complications. One patient in particular that really stuck with me presented to the clinic on the back of a bicycle.
At 13 years old, Rabecca developed bacterial meningitis and did not receive treatment until her condition became very serious. As a result, she developed hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), which was not treated until she was 15 years old, and in turn, she developed a number of physical deficits as a result of the brain damage.
Now 21, she is healthy and does not suffer from hydrocephalus, but she is left with clubbed feet, spastic legs that are hypertonic (stiff), and a limited ability to communicate. Her mobility is quite limited and she has to scoot around the house to get around. When Rabecca needs to travel a longer distance, her mother, who is probably no taller than 5’2″, lifts her onto the back of a bicycle and walks the bike for miles and miles. Rabecca is able to hold onto the bike and her mom just has to make sure she maintains the balance of the bike. Logistically it is very challenging for her mother to transport Rabecca and she is also putting herself at risk for numerous musculoskeletal injuries and long-term pain. This could eventually impact her ability to care for Rabecca and her ability to farm/provide for the family.
With the opening of the Khanda Health Center, patients like Rabecca will have access to physical therapy, occupational therapy, palliative care, and assistive devices for transport. Others who contract bacterial meningitis in the future will have access to life-saving antibiotics within a reasonable walking distance and will likely avoid the hydrocephalus and brain damage Rabecca has experienced. There are so many patients and stories I carry around with me from that trip. This dream, this unattainable goal of opening a medical clinic in Khanda–it’s happening, it’s really happening! I am so excited to see how God is working for the people of Malawi through the Khanda Health Center when I return to Malawi in 2024.