The first time I met Nathan, nearly two years ago, he was in a tiny mud hut just off the main road leading into our village, Kazembe. I had been called to this home by his great-uncle, Kennedy. Nathan's mother was suffering from an enlarged heart from an infection. She had been in the hospital for a month and had been sent home by the hospital because "they had no medicine to help her". Basically she was on hospice care with no stronger medicine than Tylenol to relieve her symptoms.
Nathan was an adorable boy of five months old. Unlike some babies in the village who cry in terror of my white skin, he climbed right into my lap and began to play with my hair. I fell instantly in love.
Looking over at Nathan's mother who was lying on the floor on a thin mattress, my heart broke. Unable to bear the weight of clothing on her chest, her shirt lay open. Every few minutes a spasm would come over her and she would clutch her heart in pain. I felt completely helpless. Not for the first time, I wished I had some type of medical training, some way to relieve her suffering. She needed clean, soft bedding, strong pain relievers and comfort.
All she asked of me was that I take her baby. When he saw his mother, Nathan wanted to nurse and be held but that understandably caused her immense pain. Obviously it's not our normal practice to take in a baby that has a living mother but I could see that she really couldn't care for him. After first promising that as soon as she got better we would bring Nathan back home to her, I took Nathan in my arms and carried him home.
Two weeks later, his mother passed away. I firmly believe that her final hours were peaceful as she knew that her little baby boy was being cared for and loved.
Nathan is now a happy and healthy preschooler with a mischievous smile and a talent for mimicking. Watching him toddle around the house with his ‘brothers and sisters’ always brings a smile to my face.
This story contributed by Amy Morrow, project manager at African Educational Services