I’ve been meaning to tell this story for a while but have always stopped short, seeking to confirm that everything is still alright. Even now, just before I put pen to paper, I feel the need to ensure with my own eyes, once again, that all is still well. So I head downstairs in search of my youngest daughter, Kelly.
“Show me your leg, Kelly,” I say.
She stretches it out from beneath her desk, eyes firmly on her zoom class, ears following her Chemistry teacher explain solutes and solvents.
“No, stand up”, I say.
“Mum, I’m in class!” she protests.
“But is your leg still ok?”
“Yes,” she replies, somewhat exasperated.
So here I am.
This story begins sometime in March 2019, just four months before Kelly turns twelve. She is a vivacious young girl at this time, happily going about whatever occupies pre-teen girls these days. Mostly fighting the good fight between keeping good grades and following the most popular videos, I presume. And swimming of course, her favourite sport. She’s a highly spirited lass, given to dashing hither and thither all day long – why walk when you can run, yes?
Anyway, around this time, her dad and I begin to notice something disturbing about her left leg. It is somewhat bent at the knee, and her two legs are beginning to form a curiously-shaped ‘K’. We both look once, twice and quietly wonder if we’re seeing things. And then we begin to take the matter to the Lord in prayer. But after a few weeks, it becomes clear that the leg is even more bent, and that her gait has begun to change. She seems to be dragging that leg somewhat, in an attempt to adapt to the unnatural bend at the knee. Swimming too, has become a problem, as some of the motions cause her pain and discomfort. We begin to panic.
We inquire around and find a highly-acclaimed orthopedic surgeon, whose practice is based at the Nairobi Hospital. I immediately call and book an appointment for the earliest available slot.
When the time arrives, I drive to Kelly’s school and sign her out for the day. The lass is determined not to fall back in her studies, so she comes armed with enough books to keep her busy as we wait at the doctor’s reception. He is one of the best orthopedic surgeons in the country, we hear, and is only available at his clinic once a week. But alas, when we arrive and our turn comes, we are coolly informed that the good doctor is not in, but his very able assistant is filling in for the day. So kindly go in.
We proceed and find a young lady doctor seated behind a large desk, filled with plastic models of various types of bones. Kelly busies herself examining them curiously, while I explain the history of her ailment. The doctor listens keenly and then asks Kelly to lie on her patients’ couch while she examines both of her legs. She then returns to her desk and promptly delivers her diagnosis.
“Rickets”, she declares.
Rickets?! From the little primary school science I remember, this was a disease caused by severe malnutrition or something.
“Yes, rickets”, she continues. “But to confirm, we will need to do a blood test to check for Vitamin D deficiency. However, to correct the deformity in her leg, we will need to do surgery.”
I watch anxiously as she leans over, picks a model of a human leg and begins to explain how the surgery would work.
“We can correct the leg by cutting off a bit of bone here,” she says, illustrating on a writing pad how chopping off a chunk of bone would eventually cure Kelly’s deformity.
We leave her office somewhat baffled. Rickets?
Later that evening, my hubby and I discuss the matter at length. The results of one of Kelly’s tests has revealed worrying levels of parathyroid hormone, indicating that something is significantly wrong. We don’t know what the solution is, but chopping of some of her bone seems a bit extreme. We decide to get an opinion from a second doctor.
I phone a wonderful family friend, fondly nicknamed Auntie Gashes, who has known Kelly since birth. Gashes had previously voiced deep concerns about Kelly’s leg and is of course happy to help. She recommends yet another well-known surgeon at a hospital located off Ngong Road.
A few days later, I sign out our daughter once again and off we go. We find a queue several patients long and Kelly tries to concentrate on reading a book as we wait. When we are finally ushered in, we find a slim, middle-aged doctor, wire-rimmed spectacles perched pointedly on the bridge of his nose. I explain her problem, and we go through the examination process once again. Then I candidly share the previous doctor’s diagnosis, and her recommendation for surgery, and ask his opinion of this.
“Your daughter is only twelve, Mama Kelly,” he says. “Tell me,” he continues, somewhat disdainfully, “how much of her bone should I cut off?”
I’m slightly offended by his attitude, but I soon understand what he’s trying to say. No one can correctly predict how tall she will grow, is his point. Therefore no one could possibly know how much bone to cut off without causing Kelly a permanent limp. A cold chill runs down my spine.
“What she needs is a brace,” he announces.
So, a few days later, we begin the process of fitting Kelly with a brace, and I watch with trepidation as the doctor’s assistant struggles to fasten it onto her leg. It’s a tight, metal contraption, with leather straps which must be tied tight enough to move her knee bone back to its correct position, millimeter by millimeter. When she cries out in pain halfway through, I begin to ask myself how this is going to work. But from that night on, my hubby, Kelly’s two sisters, and I, dutifully take turns every single night to fasten it onto her leg. But the thing turns out to be a nightmare. It forces Kelly to lie on her back all night with her leg stretched out, and she cannot bend it in any way. On top of this, the straps cut mercilessly into her skin, leaving visible welts by morning. The poor child simply begins to dread bedtime.
I continue to pray, often waking up in the night to petition the Lord for a miracle for my daughter. I visit her bedside frequently and, armed with my anointing oil, lay my hands on that leg, pray over it, declare healing, and anoint her with oil. And by day, I keep my eyes sharply trained on it, looking for the slightest sign of improvement. But it only seems to get worse.
Eventually, the leg brace snaps under pressure and my hubby earnestly begins to seek another option. He contacts a physiotherapist who supplies a new one, which also fails hopelessly after only a few days. A friend puts him in touch with yet another physio, who promises to purchase a superior brand from Europe. But the man somehow disappears into the cold springtime air once he gets there. While all this is going on, we take matters into our hands and place Kelly on our own version of a calcium-rich diet. Plain milk, sweetened milk, sour milk, plain yoghurt, flavored yoghurt, all sorts of green vegetables, fish – anything we can persuade her to take, we buy. But no change.
Desperate, we eventually visit a well-respected physiologist who takes Kelly through numerous tests, including one that involves snipping baby hairs from the back of her head and shipping them off somewhere far, far away for clinical analysis. He then strongly recommends treatment of her deformity by further supplementing her diet. Doesn’t work. Her condition simply continues to deteriorate.
We’re now approaching October, and we’ve spent more than six months anxiously seeking an effective solution to this bewildering problem. One night, in utter desperation, I determine to knock on heaven’s doors once more for my daughter. But as I settle in my prayer room and begin to pray, something shifts softly in my spirit and I immediately find myself in deep, heart-felt travail. Hot tears soak my face and words fail, as my spirit cries out to my heavenly father. And somewhere in that state, I hear a softly-whispered word settle in my spirit. I pick up my anointing oil and, led by the Holy Spirit, head to my daughter’s bedroom. I switch on her lights to find her fast asleep on her bed, one of her broken braces propped up against the wall. I kneel by her side and continue my petition, the travailing prayer still pouring out in warm, urgent waves. After some minutes, the burden lifts and I conclude my prayer and anoint the top of her bed with oil. But as soon as I do this, brethren, the power of God floods into the room and settles all around us, and I find myself momentarily still, shaken by the sudden pulsating weight on my flesh. After a few minutes, I manage to get off my knees and make my way back to my prayer room. And when I sit down and begin to reflect on what has just happened, I hear these words reverberate gently in my spirit:
“I am the God who sees.”
Instantly, I know this: as the Lord did for Abraham’s servant Hagar and her unborn child in Biblical times, so too, will He do for me. I am engulfed in a sudden, heart-felt joy, and from that moment on, I have a peace and calm that cannot be shaken.
The next morning, I share with my hubby what the Lord has said, but interestingly, he seems led to carry on pursuing a medical solution. So, for the following months, Kelly is seen by a number of medics, each recommending a different treatment, while I continue to watch her closely, hoping that we will one day wake up to find her leg miraculously cured.
We trudge on.
It is now December and Kelly is getting quite fed up with her ever-changing treatments and diets. But with no healing in sight, her dad picks her up from school one more time, and takes her to see a surgeon at a famous hospital run by the Coptic Orthodox Church. But then, we are all thoroughly disillusioned when, after a mind-numbingly long wait, the Egyptian surgeon takes ten short minutes to prescribe the same bone-chopping surgery we have become so skeptical of.
“Babes, I’m taking her to see our GP,” my hubby later announces, clearly exasperated; perhaps a general practitioner will be able to give a fresh perspective on this matter.
He’s right. A few days later, our doctor listens to Kelly’s story and immediately dismisses the bone-hacking idea.
“What we need to do,” he explains, “is to first establish exactly why your daughter has low calcium levels, and then work on correcting it.”
To kick things off, the GP orders a battery of tests, including one that will shed some light on the state of her kidneys. He hands Kelly a large, well-sealed jug and gives her strict instructions to drink copious amounts of water for the next day or so, taking keen note of how much she drinks and how much she “voids”. And bring the jug back nice and full, if you will.
Kelly is mortified, but dutifully spends the next day drinking and “voiding”. Her kidneys turn out to be just fine.
But our trusty GP also prescribes the test that will eventually lead to our breakthrough.
“We need to do a scan that will show if there’s anything wrong with Kelly’s parathyroid glands,” he says, and promptly sends us to the Aga Khan Hospital, the only facility in East and Central Africa equipped to do this. The test costs more than fifty thousand bob and involves her lying stock-still in a large machine for ten full minutes, while it takes laser-sharp images of the PT glands in her throat – the tiny organs responsible for the regulation of calcium in her body.
And when the results come out they confirm one thing – Kelly has a tumor in her parathyroid glands. And we are finally able to understand the real cause of the deformity in her leg – the tumor has been interfering with the levels of calcium in her body, hence the weakened bones and the mis-shaping of her knee.
Shocked but relieved to finally have a clear diagnosis, we schedule immediate surgery for the removal of the tumor. It is to be conducted by an Endocrine Surgeon on the first Friday of January. We have only a few days to wait.
The night before Kelly is admitted to hospital, the Lord leads us to gather around her as a family and pray over her once again, anointing her with oil, according to His word in the book of James, Chapter 5.
But when the good surgeon opens up our daughter’s throat, there is no sign of the tumor. Surprised, he chisels out some parathyroid tissue, and sends it to the lab for further analysis. And two days later, the lab sends their report:
“12 years female with hyperparathyroidism and had suspected inferior parathyroid adenoma that was not clearly seen on neck exploration. Enblock removal of the inferior pole, left thyroid lobe and thymic tissue to anterior mediastinum done.”
“Normal parathyroid tissue,” it concludes.
We are elated, but even though I sense in my spirit what must have happened, I book an appointment and visit the GP, together with Kelly, to seek his views. I ask him why the surgeon was unable to find the tumor and press him to confirm if indeed there had been one. And he replies:
“There was overwhelming evidence that there was a tumor. We could see this from the scan, from the tests showing high levels of parathyroid hormone and the deformity in Kelly’s leg.”
The only thing that was different, he says, was the lab report.
“So where did the tumor go?” I persist.
He looks at me thoughtfully for a moment.
“I don’t know,” he replies.
Kelly looks up and smiles. We bid the good doctor farewell and happily head back home, knowing that the Lord is moving in our midst.
We seek no further treatment.
Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”
*To allow the young lass privacy, the name used – Kelly – is close, but not quite