About Me

My name is Jen Hathorn. I'm a family medicine physician. Since January 2015 I have been living in Egbe Nigeria, which is in Kogi State. I am serving at a bush hospital practicing full spectrum family medicine. I am working with an organization called World Medical Mission which is a part of Samaritan's Purse. This blog is my place to stay connected with you through stories, meditations and pictures. I hope that you enjoy reading the posts!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Miracle of a Smile

I often think about and pray for miracles that happen to the body, you know, sight restored, lame men walking, dead men raising up. I suppose that’s natural in my line of work. But lately I have been witness to a “non-physical” miracle which has been wonderful to see! I’d like to share the story with you.

I don’t usually have difficulty connecting with patients, but Seun was a different story. The first time I meet her, she was already laying on the exam-room table with her head turned to the wall. No matter what I did to engage her she would not look up or turn her face toward me. I finally got her to say a few whispered words — that was the best I could do. Her father was present during the exam and filled in all the details. For the past 5 years she had had rapidly progressive swelling in both of her legs until now, at the young age of 15, both of her legs were grotesquely large with huge folds of swollen overlapping skin. Elephantiasis. Her parents had taken her to many different doctors and hospitals over the past months but each time they had been told the same thing, no help or multiple costly surgeries. Exhausted and desperate they finally brought her to our hospital praying we would have a different answer. As her father poured out the story, pleading with us to help his daughter, I was watching Seun.  Her face was like stone. If it wasn’t for the two small tears that escaped from the corner of her eye it would have been hard to read much past that mask-like expression. After much prayer, discussion, and a few follow-up visits our surgeon decided to go ahead with surgery to de-bulk one of her legs. If that was successful he would preform the same type of surgery on the other leg a few months later. Each time I saw Seun during those follow-up visits, it was the same thing, little or no spoken communication, downcast face and more often than not, tears. Finally, the time came for her surgery and she was admitted to the hospital the night before so that we could complete all the necessary blood-work and pre-operative tests. At the last minute, I decided to go down and see her before I went to bed. I wrote out a verse on a small card so that I could leave it with her. When I reached the ward she was in the same position as the first time I saw her, laying on a bed with her face turned to the wall. I greeted her and her mother and then sat down beside her. I sat in silence for a few minutes, recognizing the depth of despair and hopelessness this young teenager must feel. She had a deformity so severe it was beyond hiding. She had been told over and over that there was nothing that could be done to help her. I image that in her mind, she saw a life full of stares, rejection and aloneness stretching out before her. I talked with her mom and then we all prayed, Seun turning over just enough to be polite.  I left the verse, Jeremiah 29:11, on the bedside table and went home, praying that her surgery would go well. 

The surgery was long, 8 hours long. She came out of anesthesia groggy and tired. For the next few days her leg was wrapped in a large bandage to keep the new skin grafts in place so that they could “take”. Because she was getting enough pain medication to keep her comfortable she slept most of the time. I was nervous about the first time the bulky dressing came off and she saw the results of the surgery. I had seen enough of the operation to know that the leg was smaller than before but still very deformed at this stage with the grafts barely covering the underlying muscles and tendons. It certainly wasn’t a normal looking leg. Unfortunately I was very busy on the morning when her dressing came off, and it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that I had a chance to run up to the women’s ward and see how she was doing. I actually had to look twice at the bed where I knew Seun was staying. Sitting up with a huge smile on her face was a slim teenage girl. It was Seun! She was SMILING! I could hardly believe it!  Her eyes were alive and sparkling, she had a future and a hope again. 

Because she's been on the ward for a few weeks as the surgical team monitors her carefully for healing and signs of infection, I’ve had the chance to see her daily on my hospital rounds.  Each day she breaks out into a huge grin while we chat about life, her love of singing, school, her friends, and her family. Truly miraculous! The joy that has returned to this young girl is incredible to see. She is a new women. As I reflect back on her story, I am struck by the beauty of what transpired inside of her heart and soul during those days and hours before and after the surgery. At some point she gave her hopelessness over to Almighty God and embraced the truth of his word. 

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 
~ Jeremiah 29:11

1 comment:

  1. God Bless you Dr Jen! We think about you, and you are in our prayers. Thank you for sharing your journey! We Miss you at the Walk In, in Endicott, NY!!! Carrie, Leo, Sandy, Jennifer!