Sandrins sadly watches as her sisters run down their neighborhood road with the other children. They are excitedly ready for another day at school where they can learn new things! Eight-year-old Sandrins looks at them longingly, desperate to join but unable. While her sisters and friends are all receiving an education, Sandrins must stay home with her mother – left behind, as she often is, because of a foot deformity.
It wasn’t always like this for Sandrins. She used to go to school with her sisters and friends, but it has been several months since she last attended classes in Invoilina, about 30 minutes north of Tamatave in Madagascar. The three-kilometer walk to school gradually became too painful.
Not being able to go to school has been just one of the many limitations in Sandrins’ life after her right leg was negatively affected by a quinine injection. The medicine that cured her of malaria unfortunately damaged the nerves in her right leg, causing her foot to bend inwardly at the ankle.
Sandrins’ mother, Lydia, shares the heartbreaking details of how her daughter’s foot changed almost overnight. “About one week after the injection her foot began to swell, and then it was like that for several months. We tried everything without result.”
Sandrins was only five at the time. For a while, Lydia tried to keep Sandrins in school by carrying the child on her back. But, as Sandrins grew in size, she was too heavy for her mother to carry. Lydia was forced to stop Sandrins’ studies and keep her at home.
It is especially sad for Lydia to see Sandrins in this condition because Sandrins has a twin sister, Sandra, who is perfectly healthy. The differences in the two girls can be traced all the way back to birth. Sandra was born healthy and strong, but Sandrins was born frail and skinny.
But Lydia never gave up hope for a cure for Sandrins, and it presented itself in the most unusual way. She excitedly describes the radio announcement about the arrival of Mercy Ships. “I heard (on the radio) about someone who treats problems with the foot, some things that swell, many different things! Those people invite us to come to the Hospital Manara-Penitra.” She believed the ship’s arrival might be her daughter’s last opportunity for healing.
So, she carried Sandrins on her back to Tamatave and waited in line with hundreds of others on the very first day of screening. Lydia was overjoyed when her daughter was among those selected for surgery onboard the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship.
Sandrins’ healing onboard involved two procedures. First, to straighten the girl’s foot, volunteer surgeon Dr. Frank Haydon (USA) surgically released the plantar fascia, the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects the heel bone to the toes. Five weeks later, a second surgery straightened the foot completely. To keep the foot straight and to allow it to heal properly, Sandrins wore a cast for several weeks.
The second stage in Sandrins’ healing – emotional healing – happened at nearly the same time as the first. As the one who was always left behind, Sandrins became a very reserved, quiet child. She would often hide behind her mama when strangers would visit and never made eye contact with them. However, Sandrins blossomed in the love of the nurses, and her true personality began to shine. She became their “little helper” on the ward. The shy little girl who hid behind her mama was replaced with a smiling one who ran to be the first to greet you.
Each successful moment of physical and emotional healing brings Sandrins one step closer to being able to go back to school. She will no longer be the one who is left behind!