A TINY MIRACLE

It's unusual and maybe wrong to refer to any miracle as tiny, but I'm referring more to
the person than the miracle itself. Augustine is five years old, but from his size you
would think he's only three. This is most likely due to malnutrition, confirmed by his
condition-Noma, or Cankrum Oris, a flesh eating disease in which the normal bacteria
in one's mouth takes advantage of a weakened body and begins to quickly devour the
skin and even kill bone. Underneath the gauze bandage that he wore into our clinic,
Augustine was missing nearly all of his right cheek, part of his right upper lip, and
much of his upper jaw bone had died.

The miracle? Augustine is from Zwedru, over a day's travel by public transportation
from our clinic. His condition had started two weeks before we first saw him. Mortality
rates for his condition before the days of antibiotics were estimated from 70 to as high
as 90%. When I asked if he had IV antibiotics at the local hospital before coming to
Monrovia, the answer was no. I thought he must at least have had tablets on his way
down, so I asked his father. No. No medicine at all. I asked the father if he had prayed
for him, he said yes. "That must be it then," I told him. "He's a walking miracle." And
not only was he in reasonably good physical condition, but the disease did not seem to
be in the active state. In a condition caused by a weak immune system, how can a
body further weakened by the Noma heal itself? Almost impossible. What's more,
Augustine sadly tested positive for HIV, which would further explain the reason for
this condition, but make it even less likely that he would be in such good health
considering the disease from which he suffered. We did a simple debridement of the
area, kept him on antibiotics, and he continued to look better and better.

Frieda, who asked the father more questions, said the father was told by many what
even the nurses at the hospital have told our doctors about some conditions: "Medicine
will not cure it. It's African Sign." This usually refers to the effect of a curse. Most
everyone believes in this, Christian or not, educated or not. This father was different.
He told us boldly that he did not believe this.

We don't want to formulate anything, but there has to be something said of not
allowing God to be smaller than evil, or even the possibility of evil. And there is
something to be said, a child that is still alive against all odds. He has begun
antiretroviral medication and will have a long road of facial reconstructive surgery
ahead of him, should the chance even arise. But with the love and faith of his father,
he will make it through it all just fine.

February, 2010