Freedom for the Future

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Serah, or Heuridia as she’s known to her family, looks like any other 9-year-old girl in the city of Toamasina, Madagascar. She rides her bicycle around her parents’ green-painted bungalow while some of her friends from around the neighborhood watch excitedly, waiting for their turn. She later gets a basketball and plays it with her friends, jumping this way and that as her smiling grandmother looks on from the porch.

This scene looks normal, but as she plays, the adults in her life are full of joy because Serah’s transformation is nothing short of a miracle. Nine years have passed since Serah received orthopedic surgery with Mercy Ships, changing the trajectory of her life.

“I’m really happy when I see her because I never thought she would walk properly like other kids,” admits her 65-year-old grandmother, Seraphine.

Serah’s life was surrounded by joy very early, beginning when her parents, Fredo and Sandrine, first heard the news that they were expecting a baby girl. However, the ultrasound didn’t indicate that the baby had bilateral clubfeet, a congenital birth defect where both feet are rotated inward. Without early treatment, the condition can’t improve on its own and makes it difficult for children to walk as they grow up.

“I had done an ultrasound, but the clubfeet were not seen,” her mother shared. “We only knew that it would be a girl, and I was very happy.”

Their delight was immediately shadowed by worry once they saw the telltale signs that little Serah’s feet were bent inward.

“I was heartbroken when I saw her clubfeet, but as a man, I did my best not to lose hope about her treatment,” said Fredo. “That’s what I kept in my mind so that I wouldn’t be discouraged, even though I was a little discouraged. I can’t say 100%, but I was 99% discouraged. My hope was like 1% that this could be corrected.”

Fredo and Sandrine felt overwhelmed when faced with the medical challenges their young daughter would face.

“I was completely lost, and I didn’t know where I could find a solution. I really lived with that discouragement on the day that she was born,” continued Fredo. “But some doctor friends encouraged us, saying ‘Don’t be discouraged, there’s a treatment for that, it can be treated properly and corrected.’”

Serah’s parents were determined to get treatment for their daughter. They began visiting a local hospital to pay for casts for her little feet when she was hardly a year old. Each week, they spent what little they had to pay for casts and bandages, as well as transportation fare to the hospital.

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Even though Fredo worked for the mayor’s office and was considered middle-class, paying for his daughter’s medical supplies was beginning to take a financial toll on the family.

“I was ready to sell even my personal belongings to see to it that my daughter’s legs were normal,” shared Sandrine. “She was my first baby girl, and I would do anything for her.”

The 40-year-old mother of three had been pregnant before with a girl but suffered a miscarriage.

“I started to think that maybe I am not so lucky with girls,” she said. “But the doctors at the hospital where she was born encouraged us not to lose hope and that her condition could be treated.”

In 2015, their hope was rewarded when a hospital ship arrived in the port city where the family lived.

“The nurse at the hospital said Mercy Ships were here and that she could be treated there, and that’s how my hope was reignited,” remembered Sandrine.

Serah, 6 months old at the time, was welcomed on board for free surgery, and her parents took the leap of faith to trust strangers with their precious daughter.

“On the day of her surgery, they invited me to come into the operating room on the ship and witness the surgery, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it,” Sandrine recalled. “I just couldn’t watch them cut something on my baby’s feet, but I told them, ‘I trust you, and I know you can treat her.’”

After the surgery, the real journey to healing began. It took several more weeks before the casts were taken off little Serah’s feet. Sandrine still remembers the moment, saying that watching the medical team remove the casts from Serah’s feet was like witnessing them “unwrapping a special gift.”

“I am so elated,” Sandrine shared about the life-changing surgery that Serah received to straighten her clubfeet.

“She was so young that she doesn’t have any memories of all the anguish we, the adults around her, felt,” her father said. “I am just so happy now.”

Now, at 9 years old, Serah is free to run, play, and dream about the future. She hopes to become a doctor when she grows up, but in the meantime, she’s busy playing tea party in her free time with her friends.

“Thank you for your help,” Serah said. “Because you’re the ones who helped me. Thank you!”