Feature

Binta’s Miracle

A broken heart is mended

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During the 19 years that I have been a pediatrician at Bongolo Hospital in Gabon, Africa, I have seen many children who were born with heart defects pass away. There is no possibility of corrective heart surgery in Gabon, and the government no longer sends them to France for procedures. While caring for these children, I’ve prayed that God would open up opportunities for these precious little ones to receive the surgery they need. I contacted several organizations that bring children to the United States for heart surgery but was always told that Gabon was not one of the countries they were involved with. I prayed that God would make it possible for Bongolo Hospital to send these children somewhere for help before it was too late.

In February 2006, while at a medical conference in Kenya, I was able to share this dream with Dr. Philip Fischer, a pediatrician from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He immediately picked up his cell phone and called a pediatric cardiologist at Mayo, who invited me to come for a short rotation in their echo lab. God made it possible for me to spend three weeks at Mayo Clinic in October of last year, after which the doctors said that they would consider accepting one of our patients in 2007.

A HARD CHOICE

Now came the hard part—choosing one patient from all the children needing heart surgery! How could we determine the best candidate, given our limited diagnostic equipment and my limited knowledge of pediatric cardiology? In December, Dr. Ron Johannsen, an adult cardiologist who has come to Bongolo Hospital many times and who has been praying with me for these children, helped to evaluate all my cardiac patients. We both felt that Binta, a tiny three-year-old Malian girl, was the most urgent case, having the least time until her heart would be inoperable, if it wasn’t already too late.

From the time Binta was presented to me as a two-monthold, gasping for air and unable to gain weight, I had prayed with her mother, who is Muslim, that God would do for Binta what we couldn’t. Each time she came to the hospital in crisis, I asked her parents if I could pray for Binta, and God spared her life again and again.

Given all the requests that Mayo receives from all over the world, the doctors there could not give one of their precious charity slots to Binta based on just Dr. Johannsen’s and my evaluations. They would consider her only if we could send a video or DVD of her echocardiogram, something that is impossible with our equipment. I called all the cardiologists in Libreville, the capital city; few even had a working echo machine, and no one had this recording capability. Finally, one cardiologist said that he knew of a private clinic that had a video attached to an echocardiography machine, but no one knew how to use it. With the help of Alliance missionary Arnie Solvig, the cardiologist was able to produce a video that Mayo could read, and Binta was accepted.

GETTING THERE

Now we could apply for a U.S. visa for Binta and her mom. Since 9/11, this is no longer automatically guaranteed. However, the person who grants the visas knew of Bongolo Hospital’s work and processed the request in less than five hours! The next step was to purchase airline tickets. Although no one thought airlines would give fare reductions in this time of high fuel prices, I asked our field director, Al Stombaugh, to submit an official request to Air France. They gave Binta a free ticket and reduced the rate for Binta’s mom. Both of these events were amazing answers to prayer!

One of our nurses, Karen Fitch, was able to accompany them as far as JFK airport. There, she had to leave them to catch her next flight but felt bad, knowing that Binta’s mom spoke no English. All she could do was try to give her some directions. “It just killed me to leave them and I had visions of them getting lost, but I had to do it,” Karen wrote. “I prayed a lot as I headed off to my plane. I just made it! How I praise God for His goodness in providing for them.” Just as Karen was leaving, a man from Mali, speaking their own language, came up and offered his help in getting them to their next flight.

FIT FOR FUN

Binta’s evaluation in July and surgery in August went well, and the doctors were able to correct all of her heart defects in one operation. A French-speaking nurse, Coleen Lofgren, who used to work at Bongolo, was able to be with them during the two weeks of resting and then the operation. The surgery is a difficult one and complications are not unusual, but God brought Binta through in a miraculous way. The only complication was a build-up of fluid around her heart, but with much prayer, this, too, was resolved.

While Binta and her mother were in Minnesota, God provided two wonderful host families for her recovery period, the Fischers and the Johannsens—the physicians who had been of such great help already. As Binta healed, she discovered vanilla ice cream, which she requested for breakfast, lunch, supper and in the middle of the night. She also became active, pulling up the floor grates and dumping her fries down the vents and throwing the host’s bills, which were on the desk, into the wastebasket when nobody was watching. For the first time in her life, she had the health and energy to be mischievous.

INTERNATIONAL PRAISE

Binta’s story has literally gone around the world. Many in the Alliance family have been praying for her and asking how she is doing. Binta’s family and friends have called from Mali, Gabon and from across the United States to follow her progress.

Binta and her mother returned to Gabon in September. Since there was no one who could accompany them, we again prayed for God to intervene. When it was time to get on the plane, they hugged their hosts (a custom learned in Minnesota) and were off, waving and smiling as they went. Just then a passenger in line asked Coleen if Binta and her mom spoke English. When Coleen replied, “Only a few words,” the French-speaking woman said, “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of them!” Again, an angel was placed by God to help them on their way. Binta arrived in Gabon safely and full of energy and joy!

As she readjusts to being with her family and the Muslim community in Gabon, please pray that God will use all of these answered prayers for His Glory and that He will continue to keep His hand on this little miracle named Binta.

There are many more children in Gabon who need similar heart surgeries. Pray that Mayo will allow us to send another child from Bongolo Hospital in the near future. Soon, there may be an option of cardiac surgery done by Italian heart surgeons in the neighboring country of Cameroon.

Your giving to the Great Commission Fund (GCF) has supported me for the past 19 years, allowing me to minister to children like Binta, and your prayers have sustained the other C&MA staff and myself at Bongolo Hospital. In addition to GCF giving, contributions to the Bongolo Heart Send approved special will help other children like Binta who are still waiting for their miracle.

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