“What’s an x-ray?”

In July of 2014, I had the blessing of living in an orphanage in the Volta Region. The orphanage was the home to 21 children. Like most children’s homes in Ghana, it was illegal and unlicensed. Conditions could be described as primitive at best: no clean running water, intermittent electricity, lack of food, no healthcare. The children’s bedrooms resembled third-world prison cells. But that did not deter the smiling optimistic children who had only known this as their home.

I was introduced to Jenny (age 17) by a fellow volunteer, Richard. He spoke very highly of her, that she was a serious young lady. He suggested I read her memoirs that she originally wrote at age 13, and updated as her school year was ending. That evening, I read Jenny’s life story and it was a tale of an early life of moving from home to home, extended family to extended family, until she ended up at this orphanage at age 11. But I could see how Richard was impressed with Jenny, she had her own strong views regarding modern day issues in Ghana. Corporal punishment in schools: she’s against it. Women’s issues: she felt the women in the village were failing to obtain enough information about Cancer Self Examinations. Pollution: Ghanaians should not throw their trash in the street.

The next morning as I was returning the memoir to Jenny, I asked her where she was going as she was dressed up and was leaving the compound. She stated she was going to the local Clinic to have her leg examined by a doctor. That same evening I asked Jenny how her visit to the Clinic went. She stated they gave her medicine (which she showed to me) and said if her leg did not heal in a week, to return to the clinic.  I asked what was wrong with her leg. Jenny stated that “seven years ago a stone fell on my leg.”  I was shocked to hear it has been seven years, and at that point I examined her shin. At the end of her tibia was bugle of the bone about 2inches long. I asked if it hurt, she said “only when I stand and when I walk.” (I would subsequently notice that she walked with a limp and when she did her work in the orphanage she carried a stool to lean against) I was stunned. She told me this was her third trip in seven years to the same Clinic and each time they gave her meds that failed to improve her condition. She denied ever going to a hospital, so I asked if her leg had ever been x-rayed. Her response was,  “what’s an x-ray?”

The next morning Jenny, Richard and I traveled to the Regional Govt. Hospital about an hour away. Jenny and I waited in a long line to check into the facility. Since there were no computers at the check in, a hospital personnel asked Jenny a long list of questions. One of the last questions was “who is your next of kin?” Jenny gave the hospital worker my name. I had only known her for two days. After an 8-hour wait she saw a nurse and was told to come back next week for x-rays. Jenny and Richard returned the following week,as I had already returned to America, but after a 7-hour wait they were sent home due to equipment issues. Jenny and Richard would return to the hospital 4 more times over the next month. Jenny would eventually be examined, have x-rays performed, as well as have a complete blood test work up. On her last visit, she was given an Ace bandage and told to wear it. Her same pain and discomfort continued.

In October of that same year, I returned to Ghana with the intent of obtaining a successful solution to Jenny’s leg issue. I was referred to St. Anthony’s Catholic Hospital in Dzode about 2 hours away. We had a much smoother experience. Jenny was examined, x-rayed, had Blood work done and given two prescriptions all in the same day.  The drugs were for inflammation. When I returned in January 2015, Jenny told me she took the meds and they did reduce her discomfort, until the prescriptions ended.  But a long-term permanent solution has not taken place yet.  Jenny is scheduled to meet a orthopedic specialist in the summer of 2015. The story does not have a Happy Ending…….. Yet!

Jenny is just one of hundreds of thousands of children in orphanages that have had no one ADVOCATING for them. To think that this child, since age 11, has been in pain and discomfort every time she walked and stood is disturbing.


Mike Barry