A mother’s job is to protect her child. To shield him from danger. But what if that danger has bloomed in her own child’s body? What if it comes from the cruel words of neighbors who proclaim her baby cursed? How does a mother save her son from that?
Afua was faced with those challenges daily as she tried to shelter her son, Joseph. Born a normal, healthy baby, at seven months Joseph’s head began to grow much faster than the rest of his body. Within months, his neck was unable to support his head, and he was in constant pain.
In the small village of Kumasi, Ghana, superstition and idol worship are prevalent. As Joseph grew sicker, Afua and her husband took him to a string of spiritualists, but his condition never improved. Afua was devastated as the advice she was given grew sinister.
“Everybody was saying all kinds of things to us and giving us all sorts of advice,” says Afua. “One day, one of the spiritualists we went to told us that Joseph was the child of the river god and I had to return Joseph. The spiritualist said we should go and leave him by the river at midnight and do some rituals, and that Joseph would turn into a snake and go back into the river.”
Others said that Afua and her husband had offended a god and were being punished with Joseph.
But Afua knew that when she looked into his eyes, she was certain her child was not a punishment. She and her husband decided to make the trek to a nearby hospital, but even there she felt they were minimized.
“The doctors did not treat our case as important,” says Afua. “Sometimes I would go and sit with Joseph from morning to evening, and the doctor would just come in, look at him, give us some liquid drugs and tell me to come again in two weeks.”
Doctors eventually told Afua that her son needed a $1,200 surgery — an amount that she couldn’t even fathom. So Afua brought Joseph home, helpless to help her son as his health rapidly declined. Now almost 5 years old, Joseph could not stand or walk, unable to support the weight of his head.
It was this desperate mother and her dying son whom Compassion discovered when they opened a student center in Kumasi. The Mercy Baptist Child Development Center opened on November 2, and by November 29 the Compassion staff had already made an appointment for Afua to take Joseph to a specialist.
Joseph was soon diagnosed with infant hydrocephalus, also known as “water on the brain.” The disease affected Joseph’s ability to absorb spinal fluid, resulting in an accumulation of fluid on his brain. Left untreated, the disease results in pain, brain damage, severe developmental delays, blindness, and ultimately death.
A health specialist from the center went to appointments with Afua and Joseph, helping navigate the confusing world of hospitals and neurosurgeons. On December 24, less than two months after joining Compassion, Joseph had surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain. The successful surgery was covered through Compassion’s Medical Fund, and in four days Joseph was recovering at home, pain free for the first time in his memory.
“This was the child I was advised to abandon…”
The Joseph of today is barely recognizable from the little boy who first entered the Compassion student center. Once afraid to move for fear of falling over, Joseph has now taken his first steps. He enjoys playing with his friends and loves flipping through the pages of the picture Bible he received from Compassion. Soon he will start physiotherapy, also provided through the Medical Fund, and Afua has hope that her son will one day have a normal, healthy life.
“I do not know what to say to display the way I feel inside me for what Compassion and Mercy Baptist have done for my family,” says Afua. “This was the child I was advised to abandon by a river bank. Now, just look at this good-looking boy! All I can say is thank you.”