I have often been asked what is so special about flying in West Africa and, 'If I could have a cent for every time I was asked that I would be a millionaire'. Well, I may be far from a monetary millionaire (as all of those I owe money to know I am not), but I am very rich in my life and its experiences.
One of those experiences is Lydia, a young girl with a deformity caused by the lack of education and a absence of tube of antiseptic cream. When Lydia was three years old she was stung by an insect. Eleven years later, that wound continues to ooze and has resulted in a deformation beyond belief. I call Lydia 'My little angel with a crumpled wing'.
I met Lydia, now 14 years old, in the market - she was working laying out cloth, instead of being in school. She has had a total of two and a half years of school in her life. Her eyes are bright, she is strong and has a sense of humor so fast that I hear Larry King has quit his job before he can meet her!
Within five minutes of meeting Lydia I had arranged to take her to see a doctor and have an x-ray. Something that had not happened since the incident in the eleven years of pain and suffering. She had been treated regularly by local herbalists with a variety of 'cures'. Her Mother, a corn dough seller, and her father a fisherman and sugar cane farmer (two acres), both care enormously for their handful of children. They did what they thought was best for their child - and she has been well fed (although undernourished) and clothed - for which her parents must be commended in the difficult environment in which we live. Furthermore, Lydia's parents agreed that the 'airplane people' could take their daughter to the hospital. Something others had not been able to do. It seems that because we build airplanes and fix them, we are more than doctors. Doctors at times amputate deformities, because it is a cheap solution for a low income situation. Things are changing - but airplane people always try to repair or rebuild their angels to keep them flying - and so Lydia was entrusted to us - a little angel with a crumpled wing, in for repair. No negative comments about her parents are applicable - only negative comments about rural education systems, those churches that preach 'healing' and avoid simple medical care, and the failure of our society to reach the level of the people like this with simple education.
When I first saw Lydia's arm wound, I wept. The doctor asked me who was paying for the medicines, and I said that I would. She replied, 'in that case we will give her the good stuff'', meaning that the local people could not afford the quality of medicine necessary to hit the infection appropriately.
Lydia has now moved into the farmhouse where we live, that way we can boost her diet, ensure medication compliance, dress wounds, and, since we have brought her out of school due to preparation for surgery and to reduce re-infection levels, we are home schooling - and getting ready to start a special academy for girls later this year.
All of this is possible because of flying, building aircraft and setting up Humanitarian Aviation Logistics operations in Ghana. It has taken sixteen years to get this far - cost all that we have and more - but even if it is only to see Lydia regain 20% of arm use over the next two years surgery IT IS MORE THAN WORTH IT.
Finances permitting, her surgery will begin later this year - and I will share with you as it happens - it will take two or three years, so I have a 'surrogate daughter' for that time too - and probably a future team member for the flying doctors... I get up in the morning to hear 'Hello Dad' and night I get asked for bedtime stories and prayers - something new to her little life (she loves the Cat in the Hat story)...
Of course, life like this is like the weather here. Fantastically Amazingly Beautiful - when the sky is calm, and Fantastically Amazingly Beautiful (esp. if you are on the ground) when the sky is angry.- of course, many days see both of those at once - like last night as you can see in these pictures - calm and serene five miles south
and wickedly violent five miles north .
Would I trade this for anything else?? You gotta be kidding - this is tough, requires sacrifices most would never make - but, for me at least, this is the most wonderful way to live...and to help to change lives one flight at a time.