Imelda and her husband Didas live in a remote village in Western Uganda, with their three children. Didas is a primary school teacher.
When she was pregnant with her third child, Imelda was anxious as her oldest daughter had suffered from malaria, which had affected her development, and her second child was born with a cleft lip.
On the day she was due, she was accompanied to the health centre by her mother-in-law, as her husband needed to work in his teaching job. She had a normal delivery but baby Joan was born with a cleft lip, just as her previous child had.
“When I first saw and held Joan in my arms, I was so worried and anxious. I wondered why and how it had to be me to have two successive children with clefts. My mother in law on the other hand was shocked and did not hide her disappointment.”
“They tell me that I am cursed. That makes me so sad and sometimes I just want to run away with my children, but I have nowhere to run to."
Joan quickly started losing weight. Because of her cleft lip, she could not breastfeed or take a bottle, so most of the milk would spill out.
“When I realised that she could not breastfeed I started expressing breast milk to give to her, but after a month I had no more breast milk so I started giving her cow milk. I used to buy one cup because that’s what I could afford,” says Imelda.
There was hope
Then Imelda and Didas heard about CBM's partner hospital on the radio. Outreach worker William encouraged the parents of children with disabilities to get in touch. When William visited Joan he found her suffering from malnutrition. He brought her to the hospital for support. Cleft lip can be repaired with surgery, but when she arrived Joan was too underweight to have surgery.
The nutritionist taught me how to prepare milk with some water, oil and sugar. She also saw other people with disabilities and regained hope. “I talked to some mothers and discovered that some of them had more challenges than I did. I felt encouraged and comforted. I realised I was not alone.”
Dr Andrew Hodges, a CBM plastic surgeon based at the hospital, carried out two operations to repair Joan’s lip and palate. It was not an easy treatment and the second surgery had to be delayed as Joan was suffering from malaria and diarrhoea. But Imelda is delighted with the results.
“She looks beautiful! I am so proud of her. I couldn’t believe that her lip could be repaired to look like this. Unlike before surgery when she could not feed well, now she will gain weight. I wish the people in my village can see her now. I want them to know that God is great and that he can use people to do great things.”