Eric McCloy of Global Information Services recently returned from a service trip to Swaziland, a small nation in southern Africa with the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. While assisting the Swaziland Relief medical team, he came across a three-year-old boy with such severe cerebral palsy in his neck and throat that he could barely eat. Though the nine-person unit included several nurses and a pharmacist, no one in the group had the specialized skills of a physical therapist.
Resourceful and tech-savvy, McCloy contacted his wife, Nanette, an Arcadia alum and physical therapist, who provided guidance from 8,000 miles away to give the child a chance for a better quality of life. “I videoed [the boy] on my phone and then figured out how to upload that from Swaziland,” said McCloy during an interview with Dr. John Noakes. “That was a little bit of a challenge.”
Unable to find any Internet hotspots, McCloy settled on an erratic USB 3G modem which required several hours of troubleshooting and rehab. The process was agonizingly slow, but it was well worth it. By sharing the video and phoning Nanette, McCloy and the medical team were able to guide the mother through a physical therapy regiment to help her child regain the strength to eat, sit up and even crawl.
“[W]e went on what looked like for a while a wild goose chase to find a car seat for him, because if he was able to sit up, Nanette really thought that that would strengthen the lateral muscles in his neck, help with the feeding and cut down on the possibility of him getting pneumonia, since a lot of his time was spent just lying on his belly, which would put pressure on his lungs.”
After a long search in unfamiliar territory, McCloy found a car seat at an obscure shop behind a gas station that carried international goods. “That would help his feeding right away,” he said. “[The mother] was very excited about the fact that she had an exercise program that was heading towards strengthening him and had a better regiment for feeding going forward.”
The Swazi people exist within a fragile balance. Staving off malnutrition and disease with limited resources, they lack the means to address long term goals such as education, disease prevention and sustainable resources. Interacting with patients of Swaziland Relief—past and present—he was witness to the positive impact of the ministry and inspired by their spirit of good humor in the face of dire conditions.
Beyond Bread and Butter
“One of the things I noticed whenever I’ve traveled, in Swaziland in particular, it really came out, was just the understanding that for much of the world, just points of survival are much closer to the surface. As a general rule, whenever we would go out as a team we would just make a whole, big pile of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and we’d just have peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day. As an American, I can tend to complain about that over time, having two weeks of it straight of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and all that isn’t all that great. One of the comments that came out of that from a previous trip though was one of the translators who was working with us who was Swazi who knows English and SiSwati both, pointed out that for her family, peanut butter and jelly was a treat that they would generally only have on Christmas. Usually they would only get either the peanut butter or the jelly but to have both together in one shot was a big deal. So just the understanding of dealing with people that are a lot closer to the edge of trying to meet basic needs of clothing and nutrition tended to shift the perception of what’s happening in the U.S. just looking through that filter.”
Help and Heartbreak
“In Swazi culture, women aren’t particularly valued and I think one of the more heartbreaking things that I saw was a mother with an eight-week-old child came into the clinic—both her and the child were severely malnourished, and we later discovered that at least the mother was HIV positive. I don’t know about her son. And her husband had abandoned her when she was eight months pregnant. There are a lot of issues surrounding that. One is that with an education system where most women aren’t educated, her realization for her options for birth control were…extremely limited […]. Her husband’s comment as he was leaving was that you keep having babies, and I can’t have all this responsibility so that was one that was heartbreaking to hear […]. She was severely malnourished and HIV positive at that point, and we brought her to the hospital and provided some nourishment to her and her son and were really trying to support her as much as we could. And in fact, the pastor and his wife of the church that we set up the clinic at that day have really been working to find her a place to live even and to take care of her, and I think the saddest part of the trip is we found out about a week or so after we got back that the little boy didn’t make it. He was four pounds and he just was so malnourished that in the end they couldn’t help him.”