As Tahiry approached his second birthday, Victorine noticed something a bit odd – Tahiry’s legs were taking the shape of the letter “O.” She wasn’t sure what to make of the condition. When it didn’t improve, she brought Tahiry to the local hospital, where doctors explained that his legs could only be straightened through an expensive surgery. The total cost of the surgery would be approximately $315 USD.
As a single mother of two children, Victorine struggled to provide enough food for her children. She worked half of the year farming, and during the other half of the year she washed clothes for extra income. Even if she worked until her hands were raw, she would never come close to saving that kind of money.
“Sometimes I look at him playing with the other kids, and he is different because of his legs,” she shared. “I’m sad to look at him.”
For over two years, Victorine searched for a solution to what she felt was a desperate situation. When Tahiry was five years old, Victorine had new reason to hope. She heard through a family living in Toamasina that there was a hospital ship visiting that offered free specialized surgeries. However, when inquiries were made on Tahiry’s behalf, the surgery schedule was full. Victorine was heartbroken. Had her son’s only chance for healing slipped away from her?
Relatives told her not to be discouraged as there were rumors that the ship would return after a brief time away. They were right! The Africa Mercy returned for a second season of service in Madagascar, and Victorine was determined that this time Tahiry would be evaluated for a free orthopedic surgery.
Determined to help her son, Victorine made the journey to Hospital Manara-Penitra, the site for the Mercy Ships medical screening. She stepped off the bus at five o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. Mercy Ships staff had left for the day, but they would return early tomorrow to continue evaluating patients. In a developing country like Madagascar, where healthcare is only available for the wealthy, what Mercy Ships offers – a free surgery – is far more than people like Victorine can ever hope for. The lines to receive an evaluation can sometimes contain a thousand people, but Victorine was here because there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her children. She gathered her blankets and picked a spot on the lawn and settled into her “bed” for the night. Here, on the lawn of the hospital alongside the busy capital city streets, she would wait overnight in the freezing temperatures because her son, Tahiry, was one of millions of people in need of specialized healthcare.
Tahiry received one of over 100 orthopedic surgeries performed in a two-month period by Dr. Frank Haydon, a volunteer orthopedic surgeon from the United States. Tahiry’s rambunctious nature made him unlike any other orthopedic patient. Although confined to casts for six weeks after his surgery, more than once Tahiry returned for new casts because he wore out his casts all the way down to the bandage wrapping. His physical therapists couldn’t hide their amusement – as soon as the little boy was out of casts, the challenge would be to keep him from re-breaking his bones. Alongside Tahiry through the surgery, all the cast changes and the hours of physical rehab was his mother, who encouraged her son every step of the way.
Now that Tahiry’s legs are fully healed and restored, Victorine looks to his future with a renewed hope. “My first goal now is to send him to school. My hope for him when he is older is that I would like him to have his own business. I don’t want him to struggle like I do. Now, perhaps, he won’t have to.”
With legs that can now carry him, Tahiry will no longer struggle to go to school – and that’s the first step toward the future that Victorine envisions for him.