(Today’s #10outof10 post is from Missy Goss, one of our nurses serving the children in Uganda.)
He is one of those children with a smile that’s hard to forget. Beneath his shy and quiet exterior, Sam* (his name has been changed to protect his identity) has a sweet spirit and a gentle kindness that helps him to make a friend everywhere he goes. Sam is more than his circumstances. He is so much more than a child living with HIV.
Sam’s story is not an easy one. As a step-child living in an abusive environment, 10 year old Sam escaped from the home of his biological father and step-mother and found himself at a local police station. The police brought him to the place where many children in similar situations end up – the government-run children’s home we refer to as ‘M3.’ Though many attempts were made to contact Sam’s family through TV and newspaper ads, no one came forward to claim him. Sam’s HIV status was then discovered by the Sixty Feet nursing staff during a routine testing shortly after his arrival, which complicated his situation even further.
HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to disease and infection. Though it can be acquired in different ways, it is estimated that as many as 1.5 million people in Uganda are living with HIV. Approximately 120,000 of those are children under the age of 15. HIV is a chronic condition that requires close medical monitoring, daily medication, and lifelong practices of proper nutrition and hygiene to help prevent disease and infection. Unfortunately, Uganda is ranked 8th in the world for it’s high number of HIV and AIDS related deaths. This leads the Ugandan government to rightfully classify all of those children living with HIV and AIDS as critically vulnerable.
Sam was given extra care and attention by the Sixty Feet medical staff as well as the staff workers at M3 after his HIV status was discovered. He was referred to a local governmental hospital for his routine blood testing and HIV treatment. There, he was prescribed a daily antibiotic to help prevent the development of bacterial infections. Sixty Feet also worked with the staff of M3 to supplement Sam’s diet with extra protein to help boost his nutritional status.
Despite these interventions, Sam’s health continued to decline. He became very sick in June and was eventually hospitalized with a severe cough and diarrhea. Sam remained in the hospital for almost 1 month before the source of his cough was identified. The hospital physicians diagnosed Sam with pulmonary tuberculosis, a severe bacterial infection of the lungs that tends to affect individuals with suppressed immunity. The combination of TB and HIV continues to plague thousands of children in the developing world, and the combination can be notoriously difficult to treat in many cases.
It became obvious after Sam’s diagnosis of TB that he needed to be transitioned to another facility that was more equipped to care for his complicated medical needs. TB is highly contagious, especially to children who have decreased immunity due to young age, malnutrition, and other infections or illnesses. In order to protect the other children living at M3 and in order to find a better situation for Sam, Sixty Feet received permission to transition him to another organization just outside of Jinja called St. Francis Health Services.
St. Francis Health Services has a specialized home for children living with HIV, TB, and severe malnutrition called the Omwana House. The house is staffed by specially trained mamas, nurses, and social workers. The children receive intensive nutritional therapy as well as specialized medical care from on-site doctors and nurses. Children who walk in the door close to death often in the world for its high rate of HIV and AIDS related leave as happy, healthy kids with a lifelong understanding of how to manage their disease and the tools and resources that they need in order to stay healthy.
The same is true of Sam. Since his transition to Omwana House, he has continued to thrive and his health has continued to improve. Sam’s HIV is now being treated using daily Anti-Retroviral Therapy, or ARV pills. ARVs help to stop the HIV virus from replicating within the immune cells of the body, which helps to keep the virus at bay and allows the immune system to stay strong and healthy. Because of their partnership with St. Francis, Sixty Feet was able to place Sam in school where he is performing well and making lots of new friends. Additionally, Sam’s test results continue to show drastic improvements in his tuberculosis infection, indicating that he will likely make a complete recovery from TB.
As is the case with many of the children we serve, Sam’s story is not finished. Omwana house is not a permanent home, and Sam will eventually need to be resettled in a safe and nurturing family environment where he will be loved and cared for. Sixty Feet will continue to work together with St. Francis to ensure that Sam’s eventual resettlement is in his best interests and that his family is equipped to support him in the lifelong battle against HIV.
We are blessed to have the support of people who equip Sixty Feet to show even the most critically vulnerable children in Uganda the love of Christ. We are committed to providing immediate relief and long-term restoration to all those we serve who are affected by HIV, including precious children like Sam.AIDS, children, disease, health, HIV, support, thrive, vulnerable