“He’s doing much better than yesterday,” Nick remarks, as he gently inclines five-year-old Lucrech’s thumb toward the pointer finger.
Nick is Lucrech’s physiotherapist onboard the Africa Mercy, and they have been spending half hour together every day since his surgery. They work on exercises that will bring full function back to Lucrech’s right hand.
Today, Nick believes Lucrech is ready to touch each of his fingers to his thumb. It seems a small distance to cover—but, for Lucrech, it’s a milestone. One by one, nurses and patients gather around the pair, and a sheepish grin sweeps across the little boy’s face.
Not very long ago, most eyes on Lucrech were critical eyes. The only words he heard from his schoolmates were unkind ones. His physical problem was a seemingly uncrossable dividing line, separating him from other children.
You see, three years ago, while reaching for his brother’s toy, Lucrech tripped, plunging his arm into a pot of boiling beans over an open fire.
Without a skin graft to prevent the raw wound from forming inflexible scar tissue, the skin across Lucrech’s palm tightened until each finger was pulled into a permanently bent position. This is called a burn contracture.
Mercy Ships volunteer surgeon, Dr. Tertius Venter, explains, “To treat an acute burn wound in the First World, we would quickly do a skin graft before a contracture forms. We’d treat it with physical therapy and occupational therapy, and then splint it. But, in many parts of Africa this is just not available. The only way that the body can heal itself and prevent infection is by pulling everything together to close the wound up.”
Enough of school
A few months ago, Lucrech decided he’d had enough of school. He couldn’t handle the negative attention anymore. His classmates ridiculed him because he could not write or throw a ball. His mother, Nadja, recalls, “He loves to play games, especially soccer—but he had to play alone.”
Today, the deep, fire-etched scars on the five-year-old’s right hand go unnoticed. The people gathered around Lucrech and Nick are too busy celebrating a true showstopper—those five freed fingers that can move, stretch, grasp, wiggle, point and tickle!
Nadja comforts her son with a pat on the head as he tries to touch his thumb to his ring finger…two down, two more to go. She is beaming from ear to ear and clapping her hands in expectation. When the two fingers touch, everyone bursts into applause, exclaiming, “Très forte, Lucrech! Très forte!” [Very strong, Lucrech!]
Lucrech looks around the room with a big smile, unable to resist the temptation to flex a bicep (much to the delight of his nurses).
Nadja laughs. “He forgets the pain because of the attention,” she says.
“Okay,” Nick continues, “last one. Can you try to reach your pinky finger to your thumb? No? I think you can!”
Lucrech drapes over Nick’s thigh, his head turned toward the camera with a grin. These exercises for his newly uncurled fingers are painful—but, when everyone tells him how strong he is, he smiles and tries harder.
The pinky and thumb touch to another round of applause. Lucrech wrinkles his nose in response and then runs off to join a noisy group of his pals from the ward.
A few weeks have gone by, and Lucrech is back from the Hope Center for his weekly physical therapy. Like a miniature whirlwind he jumps up into the arms of one of the Africa Mercy crew members. All traces of shyness are gone; he’s a veritable entertainer these days.
“What are you going to do now that you can use your right hand?” the crew member asks him.
“I want to go back to school to write!” he says. Then, with a heart-melting grin, he hugs her more tightly and adds, “I want to play ball with my friends, too!”