For three years in a row, Lacor Hospital has partnered with Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) to conduct pediatric surgical camps to treat children born with anorectal malformation (born without anus or narrow anal opening), chronic constipation or difficulty in passing stool and other conditions.
We bring you the unique stories of three children who underwent surgery during the camp held from 5th – 10th March 2023. All names have been altered to protect the identity of these minors.
When Caiphus reached school-going age, his parents were hoping and praying for him to succeed. However, their hope was soon quashed as Caiphus dropped out of school. The five-year-old boy from Amolatar district could not handle school because of his condition – anorectal malformation – born without the anus.
Realising this defect at birth, they were referred to Amolatar Health Center IV from Namasale that referred them to Amaye Hospital that in turn referred them to Lira Regional Referral Hospital (LRRH). LRRH also referred them to Lacor Hospital. The boy’s parents endured the long journey because they wanted the best for their child. They were in one accord about his health and the father accompanied them wherever they went.
At Lacor Hospital, a cecostomy tube was inserted through his abdomen to flush stool out of the intestines as he was too young for other procedures. Although it was very helpful, he was stigmatised at school for soiling his clothes from time to time. Caiphus didn’t like the mockery and decided he was done with school. His parents couldn’t disagree because they too have been ridiculed by their neighbours on several occasions due to their son’s condition. He wasn’t allowed to play with the neighbours’ kids or go to any gatherings.
But five years down the road, one evening when Caiphus’ father was listening to the radio as the sun went down, he heard a very important announcement over the radio. Lacor Hospital was hosting a pediatric surgical camp to treat children with conditions like his son. They decided to park everything they needed and leave for Gulu the following day.
At the hospital, Caiphus received the much-needed surgery in the hands of gifted Ugandan doctors. The cecostomy tube was removed and the anus was finally opened. “They didn’t ask me for anything and I never paid any fee for the surgery. I am grateful for what the surgeons did to my son. May the God of heaven richly reward you,” says Caiphus’ father. “I have no fear now of sending him back to school.”
Like Caiphus, Okello was born without the anus too. His parents realized this when he was four days old. They had to go back to LRRH that referred them to Mulago National Referral Hospital but due to financial constraints, they opted to try Atapara Hospital where the baby was operated and a cecostomy tube was inserted.
Their search for a permanent solution amid financial difficulties led them to Lacor from where the birth defect was corrected.
“I am very happy. God should bless all those who operated on my baby. I am very glad because I paid nothing for this surgery,” says Ibira Isaac, Okello’s father.
Benji was born with a different kind of problem – Hypospadias, a birth defect in boys in which the opening of the urethra is not located at the tip of the penis. This made it difficult for Benji to control urine in his body. He would only realise when urine has already passed.
When they came to Lacor, they were advised to wait until he is 4years old before his body could handle surgery. Luck was on their side as Bethany Kids was able to fund this surgical camp when Benji was exactly four. The hospital gave them a call, they came and the boy was operated.
“He could not manage to be in school because urine was flowing from his body all the time,” says Sarah Lakot, Benji’s mother. “The teachers used to tell me to buy diapers but I would tell them that ‘I have bought and I no longer have any money on me’.”
Young Benji will now go back to school with confidence, knowing that his urine problem is a thing of the past. Such is the hope that this pediatric surgical camp has brought to many homes across the country.
Isaac Ibira, Okello’s father, said he never thought they would ever get a solution due to the negative perceptions people had of children like his. “In the village, people were telling us that those kinds of children will just die even if you do what,” he recalled. “I thought my son was the only one with this condition but when I came here, I found very many children; others looking worse than mine. I became strong then. I advise parents in a similar situation not to be worried.”
For Sarah, her husband viewed Benji’s defect as a curse and decided to leave them. “They say this is ‘jok’ [evil spirit] and the child will not be well. But let me tell you; if you discover any abnormality with your child, go back to the hospital and get help. I am very grateful to Bethany Kids for what they have done to our children,” she says.
Strengthening in-country collaborations
For decades, Lacor Hospital has had to rely on foreign doctors to pull off this kind of surgical camp as resources were limited. But when Covid-19 and later Ebola hit the country, all of this changed because of travel restrictions and a global financial crisis.
The gamechanger came in three years ago when the late Dr. Martin Situma [who passed on last year] did a survey and realised that there’s an overwhelming demand for such surgeries in the Northern and Eastern Uganda. He then identified Lacor Hospital as the ideal hospital which captures both regions and has the facility to handle such kinds of specialised services.
Since then, a team of surgeons have been coming to Lacor from Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) to collaborate with their counterpart in the hospital to provide this free service. The three years have seen more than a hundred children operated on with many others screened.
“The first camp was sponsored by Love Without Boundaries and the last two camps are basically Bethany Kids,” says Dr. Charles Odongo, one of the team members. “The long-term plan is to find pediatric surgeons who will be based here to continue doing this work.”
Love Without Boundaries is an international charity that provides hope and healing to vulnerable children, and their underserved communities, through education, nutrition, medical camps, and foster care programs.
The camp is also geared towards training pediatric surgeons as well as medical officers and interns and so they tug along students from within and other learning institutions in the country to learn from the practice.
With support from Bethany Kids, a compassionate Christian mission transforming the lives of African children with surgical conditions and disabilities through pediatric surgery, rehabilitation, public education, spiritual ministry and training health professionals, 30 children were operated this year while 15 others have been put on a waiting list for future dates.