From Trials to Triumph / by Ryan Chen

I don't think I'll ever forget Komla. At times he was super sweet and other times a complete pistol. I think everyone who met him had a fun moment with the kid. I was in D-Ward taking some post-op photos of a cleft lip patient when he came in and dragged me out into the hallway. He managed to get a giant yellow balloon stuck behind a gate where the trash bins were and needed help getting it out. We ended up smacking the balloon around and causing a ruckus in the hallway for a while. Komla yelled and laughed as we chased the bobbing balloon around. But he wasn't always so joyful.


Komla rides a big wheel with Ho Jin Na, Ward Nurse.

Komla began a painful journey with a leg contraction when he was only two years old. While visiting his grandfather's farm, he got a cut on the back of his leg and the wound became extremely infected. Simple treatments with peroxide or iodine could have prevented this. But because there are no disinfectants readily available, the infection got completely out of control. This is the sad reality of the lack of medical care in West Africa. 

Eventually all of the skin on the back of the leg rotted away until the bone was exposed. The body desperately tried to heal itself and cover the exposed area. Its only recourse was for the lower leg to contract upwards, fusing the calve with the hamstring area. His leg that had once been straight reformed itself into the shape of "V", losing all mobility. For six years he has been unable to use his leg.

After going through screening, Komla was admitted for surgery on Mercy Ships. Surgeons cut the skin separating the calve and thigh. They then applied a skin graft to the wound areas. And so began a long recovery and series of trials for he and his family.

Initially his mother was the caregiver who stayed with him on board. Marine regulations prevent pregnant women from being on ships and because she was due in only a few months she had to return home. There was no exempting them even though the ship was not sailing. This wasn't such a huge problem seeing as they had four other children to take care of back home. So Komla's father had to take a leave of absence from his teaching position at a school. Initially it was thought that the whole recovery process would take four to six weeks. Unfortunately this was not the case. 


Komla and his dad at the H.O.P.E. Center.

Like most little boys, Komla is active and can't sit still. He got himself into mishaps that would prolong his recovery for months. He would wake up in the middle of the night while everyone else was asleep and hop around without his splint and the ankle became swollen. The inflammation finally subsided and he didn't need to be in the hospital for dressing changes. He and his father then went to the H.O.P.E. Center (see previous story for explanation of this out-patient facility) as he recovered. Within three days, he was outside running and jumping in the dirt outside the center. His dressing got so loaded up with sand and he constantly scratched the wound area further agitating it. So back to the hospital he went for more treatments. One step forward two steps back.

Over the coming months, Komla slowly began to heal. Since he had to use a crutch for most of his life, Mercy Ships physiotherapists worked with him to relearn how to walk. 


Fran Van der Westhuizen, Physical Therapist walks with Komla up the gangway.

His father is amazingly patient and had lived in the hospital as his son recovered. Finally after four long months, Komla and his father were able to return to their village. His mother had just given birth to their fifth child and Komla would meet his baby sister for the first time.

Seeing him leave was bitter sweet. Though looking forward to going home, Komla became attached to everyone who worked with him.


Jen Petershmidt, OR Nurse and Laura Coles, Ward Nurse.

Tears were shed from both he and the medical staff as everyone gathered to send him off. Some nurses and a physiotherapist went with him and his father to bring them home.


Jen Peterschmidt and Michelle Vujicic, Ward Nurse walking Komla down the gangway for his final departure.

Medical staff demonstrated ultimate compassion, walking side by side through all his trials.




Though Mercy Ships has now departed from Togo, Komla continues his journey stronger (and probably more mischievious) than ever. 


© 2012 Mercy Ships-Photos by Ryan Chen