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Two Good Legs

Vol. 10 •Issue 11 • Page 20
Two Good Legs

A 10 year old walks from abandonment to hope

Editor's Note: Megan Petock, a critical care nurse from Bucks County, PA, is spending a year volunteering with the medical charity, Mercy Ships, docked in Monrovia, Liberia. Periodically, she shares her experiences with ADVANCE readers.

As I walked down the hospital hallway of the Africa Mercy, I was stopped by a small pair of arms hugging my legs. The arms went with a familiar face and a wide smile. It was Emmanuel, a 10-year-old boy who had received surgery last August on the ship.

Emmanuel was born with two clubfeet. Twice as many boys as girls are affected by the deformity and in 50 percent of cases both feet are affected.

In Western countries, the correction of clubfeet begins before a child ever learns to walk. But Emmanuel, born in Liberia, never had the opportunity to receive corrective surgery. For years, he walked like a ballerina wearing uncomfortable new point shoes, perched on the tops of his feet. Each step was awkward and painful. Both feet were filled with calluses and sores and resembled the gnarled roots of old trees. He lived in rejection because of his deformity.

Abandoned & Alone

Three years ago, Emmanuel was brought to Victorious Faith Ministries Refuge Home by a woman who attends the church that maintains the home. He was found living on his own in Liberia's up country, drenched in his own urine, neglected by his parents. His father was an alcoholic and his mother had a mental illness; neither had the ability to take care of him. Emmanuel had six siblings, all of whom had died.

While living at the home, Emmanuel came into contact with a Mercy Ships crew member. The crew member thought Emmanuel would be a good candidate for surgery and encouraged his caretakers to bring him to the ship.

After undergoing an orthopedic screening, Emmanuel was chosen to receive surgery. At the age of 10, he was too old to have both feet operated on together; he would need two operations. His first surgery was in August 2007, when his left clubfoot was surgically corrected. Emmanuel was scheduled to receive surgery on his right foot when the ship was in Sierra Leone this spring. It was uncertain how Emmanuel would get to Sierra Leone for his second surgery.

Lots of Prayers

During his hospitalization Lucy, one of three caretakers responsible for the 30 children at the home, stayed with Emmanuel. Although she was happy to stay with him, knowing the other children at the refuge home needed her was distressing. It was also stressful not knowing how Emmanuel would get to Sierra Leone.

Lucy prayed for a way to assure Emmanuel received his second surgery that did not require her leaving the home for a prolonged time. Her prayers were answered when the Africa Mercy's itinerary was changed: the ship was returning to Liberia.

This month, Emmanuel received his second surgery, spending almost a week on the Africa Mercy ward. His wide white-toothed smile, playful nature and joyful spirit, which won the hearts of all staff involved with his care, made it hard to believe a few years ago he was living alone without any hope for the future.

Next Step, School

Both of his feet are now corrected and soon he will be able to keep up with the other children when he walks to school.

"I am happy, I wanted to be walking with my friends to school but it was painful," Emmanuel told me. "I will be like my friends when I go to school."

Restoration has come to Emmanuel's young life. He is loved and accepted by his friends and caretakers at the refuge home; his feet are no longer twisted, and in the future, he will not be left behind.

When he returned to the home, Emmanuel was swarmed by a crowd of children. Carefully lifting him up mindful of the bulky cast on his right leg, the children carried him around like a returning hero. A joyful, bright smile consumed Emmanuel's small face. After years of rejection and neglect, he finally knew what acceptance felt like.


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