Friday, June 13, 2008

Oscar: An Adoption Story of a Kenyan AIDS Orphan

A couple of years ago Pastor and Deaconess Meeker met Oscar at a medical clinic in Kenya sponsored by LCMS World Relief. (Dr. Anita and Oscar, right) When Oscar's sister brought him to the medical clinic, he was diagnosed as stage four HIV, the last stage that progresses into full blown AIDS.

Oscar was critically thin and was suffering from malnutrition. He had to be carried in because he was too weak to walk.

Dr. Anita and Dcns. Lorna carried him to the examination table and immediately left the room and began to cry. After an emotional and cathartic cry, they returned to examine Oscar thoroughly. They discovered that Oscar was not only in stage four HIV, but he also suffered from TB, malaria, and had a blood cancer that manifested itself in a tumor on his tongue.

"Adoption" in Kenya

Pastor and Dcns. agreed to adopt Oscar. Adoption in Kenya isn't the same as we know it in the U.S. Culturally, the Kenyan people are very proud of their families and the tribal culture leads to a view of family wherein the family members possess a high degree of caring for each other when possible. However, with the HIV/AIDs epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, many families "adopt" many children from relatives and the local village. When this takes place, an adoption means that you will provide for the adopted child financially and in any other way possible. That way extended family can afford food, clothing, medicine, and education. Oscar is one of eight children whom the Meekers have adopted over the last couple of years and visit regularly.

A Common and Horrifying Experience

Oscar is a typical example of how too many people are treated out fear of HIV/AIDS, especially because they don't understand it. Oscar's parents had died
so his grandparents were raising him and his 14 year old sister. Once they realized how sick Oscar was, they moved Oscar and his sister out of the home and into another grass thatched roof, mud hut, which didn't even have a door on it. His sister dropped out of school to take care of Oscar. When she learned about the medical clinic coming to the village, she helped Oscar get to the clinic through a combination of carrying, pulling, and holding him up as he tried to walk.

Oscar's grandparents owned a still and were
alcoholics. They moved Oscar out to the mud hut to die. They didn't believe anything could be done and didn't want to spend money and resources on something they couldn't take care of. This is a common reaction that remains in many villages in the countryside. They just don't know better. The grandfather, at one point, told Oscar and Dennis, "There is no life in that boy!"
As the Meekers followed up with Oscar's medical treatment, the doctor was adamant that they must treat the TB first because that would kill him if it were left untreated. The TB treatment took 9 months. However, the first 60 days of treatment was with a medicine that was not compatible with the HIV treatment. So the HIV treatment didn't begin until first 60 days of TB medicine was completed. Once the TB was cared for, they took on the blood cancer. The doctor had hoped that the HIV medicine (ARVs) would fight the cancer. This did not happen. Instead of taking care of the tumor, it caused the tumor to grow and multiply. The tumors traveled down his tongue and esophagus and finally into his stomach. His stomach began to bleed and he required a blood transfusion, an extremely risky option in Africa.

The doctor chose to add a powerful cancer treatment, which was six doses, but it took such a toll on Oscar that the doctor stopped treatment at the third dose. The doctor thought that the fourth dose would kill Oscar because of its strength and the combination of the other drugs. The doctor was not confident that Oscar would make it. But he did. The bleeding stopped and health began to improve.
Five Minutes!

It wasn't an easy road to walk. The KEY to HIV
treatment is two-fold. First, the ARVs (antiretroviral medicines) must be taken twice a day, 12 hours a part. Oscar's med time was 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.. Now here is the hard part, especially for a 12 year old, they MUST be taken at the exact time. There is only a FIVE MINUTE window to take the ARVs. This means that Beyond this five minute window, he would risk the chance of the ARV's backfiring because his body would begin to build an immunity to the effectiveness of the medicine and then the doctors would search for another possible combination of meds. There are only so many combinations that could work.

Why Kenyan Food Crisis is Worrisome

The second part if the treatment is a BALANCED HIGH PROTEIN DIET. Without a balanced diet, the ARVs become increasingly less effective. The effectiveness of the ARVs without the diet dramatically decreases the body's ability to fight off infection and disease. AIDS develops when any illness takes hold and the body can't fighd it. Therefore, any cold, flu, along with a whole host of diseases could easily kill Oscar. (Why Yellow Corn is a Sign of Desperation)

As long as Oscar continues his regiment of ARVs and a balanced diet, he will be fine.

Think about (Oscar, one year after treatment) hard this must be for parents and family members to keep a 12 year old on the regiment of HIV treatment. This takes patience, perseverance, and a will to follow through on behalf of the caretakers and patient.
God At Work in the Gifts of Family and Medicine

By God's grace, Oscar beat the odds, even without the final three doses of the cancer treatment. Oscar returned to health. He beat the cancer. The doctor said it was a miracle. He was 10 years old when this all started. He is now 12 and his family is dealing with the typical (Left, Oscar. very dark background whited by Pr. Sell) issues a family faces with any 12 year old.
The Word of God teaches us how God cares for His people through vocation. Oscar's story is an example of God's presence in a person's life. God uses the many blessings of His creation to care and heal people, which is rarely miraculous but sometimes is, often healing takes place through the normal way of life. He uses doctors and nurses, deaconesses and pastors, musicians and grandparents, medicine, cars, airplanes, and a poor orphaned sister. Just think of all that went into bringing the medical clinic a reality so that Oscar could be healed through the gifts so many of us take for granted. He uses people who can give financial means to purchase medicine and make these clinics possible. What a difference anyone of us can make.

Please keep Pastor and Deaconess Meeker in your prayers as they continue to work hard to help and care for Oscar and so many other people in need. What complicates their work is the fact that there are many "one parent orphans" whose mother is also very sick with AIDS or Malaria or TB - or a combination of all three, just like Oscar.

There is Life after AIDS

A year after Oscar was treated and was doing well, he visited his grandparents. They visited and had a meal. Afterwards, the grandfather told Dennis with a smile, after shaking Oscar's hand, "Now there's life in that boy."

Kenyan HIV/AIDS Statistics

In Kenya, about 15% of the population is infected with HIV/AIDS. Of a country of about 31 million people, it is estimated that there are over 1.2 million orphaned. The vast majority of orphans are the sad result of the HIV epidemic. The Friends of Mercy raises funds to build rescue centers, a place where orphans are nursed back to health, educated, and loved. Here are some statics about Kenya and HIV/AIDS. It is a culture where so many parents die by 30 yrs. old.

Kenyan AIDS Statistics (World Health Organization):

Total population: 36,553,000

Gross national income per capita (PPP international $): 1,300

Life expectancy at birth m/f (years): 52/55

Healthy life expectancy at birth m/f (years, 2003): 44/45

Probability of dying under five (per 1 000 live births): 121

Probability of dying between 15 and 60 years m/f (per 1 000 population): 432/404

Total expenditure on health per capita (Intl $, 2005): 96

Total expenditure on health as % of GDP (2005): 4.5

Figures are for 2006 unless indicated. Source: World Health Organzation

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Can't Help Myself - RED WINGS WIN!!

For those of you who are hockey fans around the world, I just can't help myself to celebrate for a moment the Red Wings win last night. The funny thing is, it's hard to find a hockey rink in Kenya. :) I'm sure Pastor David Chuchu would enjoy hockey.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Why Yellow Corn is a Sign of Desperation

The next couple of years look desperate for the poor in Kenya. During the post-election violence (January 08), mobs destroyed the crops in Kenya’s “fertile crescent,” the Rift Valley, and farmers were forced to flee for their safety. This area of Kenya is the bread basket that provides Kenya’s food.

In a recent phone interview with Deaconess Lorna, she simply said, “They’re eating yellow corn in Kibera.” I mentioned this to a Lutheran Kenyan who lives in California. She immediately gasped and said, “Oh no, they’re desperate.”

To you and me the significance goes over our head. Kenyan corn is white. Yellow corn means that they are eating corn from the U.S. That means they are not able to proved for themselves and the corn they are eating is crisis aid from elsewhere. Therefore, yellow corn is about 3 times as much as the Kenyan white corn. Yellow corn is now 75 schillings per can, which is about $1.23. The average salary for a Kenyan is about $1 to $1.50 per day. The math is not very hopeful for the stomachs of the people of Kibera.

What is most worrisome is when you combine the sky-rocketing price of food and the fact that their crops were destroyed, many wonder if we will begin to see pictures of malnutrition and starvation coming out of Kenya. Food programs have begun, but there is so much to be done. It is our hope that we will continue to make a difference among the victims of AIDS, the children and the widows especially.

Read more here Kenyan Farmers Uprooted

Sibling Family: An Example of Lutherans Making A Difference in Kenya with Orphans

Mercy for AIDS Orphans in Kenya

(We withheld real names to protect the privacy of those mentioned.)

Meet June. June (right with brother on her back) is about 11 years old. She carried her brother on her back to the medical clinic at Springs of Life in Kibera slums. She was with a friend, Rose (left, holding the hand of a little girl), and after they signed up for the clinic and situated their siblings, June and Rose played together as little girls would. Then, when it was time to get down to business and see the doctor, she swung her brother onto her back and was acting like an older mother.

It was astonishing, yet sad, to see such a young girl switch roles so quickly. However, this is a common practice, called “sibling families,” wherein a child 11-16 years old will function as the parent to their younger brothers and sisters. These are the victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Orphans, millions of them, in Kenya alone, are left to fend for themselves because their parents died of AIDS, often by the time they were thirty years old. Kenya is only an example of the suffering in sub-Saharan Africa from HIV/AIDS and poverty. A gruesome and deadly combination.