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Last September, I met Father Martin at St Mary’s Church in Newton Aycliffe, not far from where I live at home as he was standing in for Father Tony who was in Zambia. He is the Parish Priest at Our Lady of the Assumption in Kyere, not too far from Kumi! We visited him in November and we promised him an outreach clinic which we held today. We never know what to expect when we arrive for a clinic, few children with disabilities or very many, and today we weren’t disappointed but completely overwhelmed by the number.

Where to start! A breakfast of tea, groundnuts, water melon and banana sounded just the thing and not what we are used to on arrival at an outreach! Our purpose could not end there so we found that Fr Martin had planned the day well with us sitting at a table on his veranda while the children and guardians sat on the floor filling every available inch of free space. The children were brought to our table and, one by one, we assessed them and we decided on a course of action. Agute, a young girl with osteomyelitis, has priority over others for surgery as her condition can worsen and may lead to many complications. Four little mites resembling little more than bags of bones and aged between two and five years but looking more like tiny babies needed admitting to Kumi Hospital Nutrition Unit but few can afford even the transport let alone the hospital bills. So many youngsters are brain damaged at birth due to prolonged labours and other complications which manifest themselves as brain damage of varying degrees. Some can be helped with rehabilitation while others have little prospects but few, if any, leave without support in one way or the other. Maybe a CP chair will help the child to learn head control and sitting skills, a wheelchair for an older child will improve mobility and, with the more weighty youngsters, remove the need to physically carry these children. An exercise programme can motivate the parents to help their children and this can be given on site or back at the hospital where the child can receive regular physiotherapy. I find the most difficult to manage are those children with severe behavioural problems and we can only encourage the parents to do their best for the child. We are identifying children in need of plastic surgery as Interplast UK hopes to return in October. Today, a child with an extra little finger, one with severe burn contractures of the hand, another born without a proper hand and foot, a couple with keloid scars were on our list. Could the hand be operated on to make it more functional? The plastic surgeons can tell us so I shall be emailing photos of these children for advice.

At around 1 pm, Fr Martin announced that lunch was ready. He was surprised when we told him that we do not stop for lunch but continue until we have finished and so we continued without a break. There reached a time when we realised that, with the best will in the world, we could not achieve seeing all and so some were willing to go home and would return the next day. In all, we saw over ninety children and would continue the next morning. I did stop for one break as the young man with club feet who we had provided with a bicycle in November arrived bearing a gift which he pulled out of a black plastic bag (cavera); a long, ugly, slimy mudfish! He was so happy to have started his small business and grateful for the bike which had enabled him to set it up. Ruth was the lucky recipient and she sent me a photo of it drying for future use.

Finally, the veranda was empty and we sat back almost in disbelief. Antony is a newly qualified physiotherapist and I am long retired so we are both at extreme ends of our working days. We can help each other but we are not doctors and we know our limitations by referring many to hospital departments where we hope they will receive accurate diagnoses.

Lunch became supper and, in spite of it being not quite so hot as it would have been earlier, it was more than welcome. Now it was dark and we were able to pile into the vehicle to drive home. Bed!

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