I can’t believe that more than three months have passed from that September 1 biopsy day. As I recall these events, I can see how the hand of God was providing us in every need through so many people that extended their hand in every possible way. Through the prayers of those who accompanied us in this journey, God also provided faithfully for our spiritual needs. As I write this, I realize I won’t be able to count all the wonders God has made in our lives this past three and a half months, but that does not prevent me from trying…
On September 1 Jerzon and I were in the doctor’s clinic in Sta. Rosa. While we were preparing for the biopsy procedure, the doctor and I talked and agreed that we needed to do all the testing available in the town that day, since we were subjecting our patient to a painful procedure and the resources were at hand. I was going to take one part of the samples to the Public Health Region of the town and the other part to the organization that was going to process the samples that we were sending to the US later that week. I told her about the conversations that Carol and I had about Leishmaniasis and I must confess we were both a little skeptical about having a positive result that day.
As we entered the laboratory of the Health Region, I remember I told Melyssa Cardenas who was with us that day: “Don’t worry this won’t take too long. Everything will be negative, you’ll see…” After nearly an hour of waiting, the microbiologist called me. I said: “No way… you found something, didn’t you?” after she told me what she had found, I replied: “I want to see it too, please” I was trying not to show too much excitement while Don Roberto and Jerzon were looking at us. About 20 minutes later I called Shannon, almost unable to speak, saying that we thought we had seen “amastigotes”, a form of the parasite that causes Cutaneous Leishmaniasis. We had a diagnosis and it was curable!
Leishmaniasis is a widespread parasitic disease that it’s currently denominated for the World Health Organization as a “neglected” tropical infection, the estimated disease burden of leishmaniasis places it second in mortality and fourth in morbidity worldwide. The parasites are transmitted to humans by sandfly bites. In its more common cutaneous form, it is characterized by ulcers that form especially in the face, and even after healing, they may disfigure a child and lead him to a social stigma. As we were familiarizing with this information and while we were discussing the treatment options, the desire to provide special care for Jerzon became stronger. We wanted to administrate the medication ourselves and having him close by to monitor and treat any medication’s side effect. This antiparasitic medication could lead him to liver failure and heart damage, besides other serious complications. As we were sharing Jerzon’s diagnosis to other people and his particular situation, the help came instantly. The government trusted and provided us their medication to treat him outside of his health unit, and the kindness of so many people allowed us to rent an apartment for what we thought at the moment, 28 days of treatment.
Today, while we I was helping Jerzon to get ready to go back home I shared with him how scared I was of he being my responsibility. I wasn’t just going to be his doctor; I also took the responsibility of taking care of his studies, tutoring him so he would not lose his school year and making sure he will remain being the top of his class by the end of the year. I was going to make sure he had an adequate nutrition. Look for him in every possible way, making sure he had everything he needed. And above all, with God’s help, I was going to take care of his spiritual needs. What a challenge! I was just starting to familiarize with that, when Jerzon’s family told me that another boy was going to stay with us, Dauny, the 13 year old Jerzon’s nephew. And that’s how everything started as “Melissa and her boys.” Yes, one day to another I became a new “mom” with two teenager boys. I couldn’t have done any of this without Kristi’s advice and wisdom. I certainly enjoyed so much having mom’s conversations with her. The Hopkins family supported us in everything, and we are so grateful for all the sacrifices they made in order to make this boys feel loved and comfortable, spending time with them and giving me once in a while, a much needed rest… During the first weeks I got to thinking that this was going to be easy. But as long as the days passed by and Jerzon needed more time to stay in Gracias to heal properly, things started to be complicated. Oh yes, THEN I became a mom. We went through so many things medically and emotionally speaking. Jerzon had a side effect of the medication strong enough to scare us all. He also was starting to become impatient and more homesick. They were times he refused to do what it was required from him to heal (and he started doing things that he thought would accelerate the healing process and did exactly the opposite, like picking scabs). What a journey. It’s so wonderful that now Jerzon, Dauny and I can sit and remember with a lot of laughter and gratefulness these days.
I love my boys so much and I’ve learned so much from them. God has shaped us and we are a family now. I’m so privileged of being one of the few people in Jerzon’s life that can actually see him beyond his disease. I’m able to read him so easily most of the times. He has become in the happiest boy I ever knew and I’m not ashamed in saying that his joy becomes automatically in my joy and if he feels sad, I feel sad too. I get desperate if he gets desperate. We feel strong together and sometimes, we’re ok feeling weak. I have understood the meaning of Romans 12:15 when it says “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” I can say now that no one should go through life without experiencing once what is like to spend ourselves for others. Yes, it can be painful and hard, but also constitutes in one of the greatest joys of a lifetime.
For me this story it’s a circle of grace. As we recall these events, we keep drawing this circle starting and ending at the same point, in God’s amazing grace. We recently informed Jerzon and his parents about a new discovered diagnosis. There was a sin that was invited in their home many years ago, and it came to light. It followed Jerzon’s parents and their beloved son for all these years. Jerzon was born with a undiagnosed Congenital Syphilis. At this moment with information we have, we believe this make him susceptible to get Leishmaniasis when he was 4 years old and at the same time it allowed the parasite to cause so much damage in his skin leaving uncommon lesions that distracted so many doctors, making hard to even consider it while they were investigating him. And in the middle of treatments, cleanings and who knows what other things, the leishmania parasite could have been hiding under the effects of the Congenital Syphilis, not showing itself under any microscope. But during all this time, our merciful God didn’t allowed this parasite go further from Jerzon’s skin. Several species of leishmania can go deep into the nose and throat and destroy them completely. Also, a process of inflammation of 11 years could have caused skin cancer in our boy.
I think don Roberto, doña Francisca (Jerzon’s mom) and Jerzon himself, now acknowledge a God full of mercy in a deeper meaning. I know that this family will trust His works not only because they have seen and lived His grace towards Jerzon and them through all these years, but because there is a certainty deep inside that doesn’t matter what happens, God will never abandon them. They know, with that amazing faith that has been constantly provided by the Holy Spirit since they embraced God’s salvation; that there is so much more faithfulness to see, so many more answers to be given and a permanent healing for Jerzon. We believe this too, and we know that our journey will keep continuing until God’s purpose may be completely fulfilled in our boy and his family, in us and in all the people that so graciously and devotedly had stand with us in this path.
“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”