After swallowing lye, a 10-year-old boy travels across Africa to receive life-saving surgery at a hospital supported by Samaritan's Purse
Emmanuel arrived at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya nearly dead from starvation. He hadn’t eaten for weeks.
The 10-year-old boy had taken a drink from an unmarked jar. By the time he realized it was lye, it was too late. His esophagus was already destroyed from severe burns.
Emmanuel’s mom is an unemployed single mother with several children who must depend on family members for financial support. She took Emmanuel to receive a feeding tube at a hospital near their home in Liberia, but didn’t have the proper nutrition to feed him through the tube.
Then, the tube fell out and his mother couldn’t afford another trip to the hospital. She tried giving him tea to drink, but swallowing was impossible. Since that time, Emmanuel hadn’t eaten or drank.
The boy’s case was further complicated by a heart defect that would have to be fixed before he could be treated for his esophageal burns.
Samaritan’s Purse staff in Liberia learned of his case just when a cardiac team was visiting Tenwek Hospital. We rushed to fly Emmanuel from his home in western Africa across the continent to Kenya.
“Emmanuel was one of the most severely malnourished children I have ever seen,” said Dr. Russ White, an expert in esophageal repair and the boy’s doctor at Tenwek. “When I first saw him, I was somewhat despondent, thinking that he was far too weak to undergo heart surgery.”
But when the cardiac team examined him, they found that his heart was normal. There was no explanation for how he had been able to heal. Many staff members at the hospital began to refer to the small boy as “The Miracle at Tenwek.”
With no need for heart surgery, Emmanuel was ready to begin the necessary procedures for his esophageal repair. Hospital staff inserted a new feeding tube to provide proper nourishment and help him gain enough weight to have surgery and gave him fluids through an IV.
Dr. White performed Emmanuel’s surgery once he weighed enough. After the initial operation, he performed other supplemental procedures to stretch his esophagus where it was sewn to his stomach.
Within two weeks he was strong enough to leave the intensive care unit. He was delighted to eat a bit of bread and began gaining weight almost immediately.
Emmanuel was discharged from the hospital about a month after his surgery. He and his mother joined in worship with the some of the doctors at Tenwek the day he was discharged. After leaving the hospital, he had to continue visiting so that Dr. White could continue to check him and evaluate how much more stretching was necessary.
During his time in Kenya, Emmanuel learned how to ride a bike and how to swing on a rope. For the first time since he had destroyed his esophagus, he was able to play like healthy children. Although he was incredibly somber during his first weeks at Tenwek, he often smiled after his surgery.
Almost four months after arriving at Tenwek, Emmanuel was able to return to Liberia. He can now go back to school, which he hadn’t been able to attend since swallowing the lye.
A 6-year-old girl named Alice who had also drunk lye and destroyed her esophagus accompanied Emmanuel during this process. Alice has healed and returned home to Liberia as well. Read her story in the Spring 2013 edition of PrayerPoint, our quarterly magazine. Subscribe to PrayerPoint by making a donation of any amount.