One morning in April, 2008, Tom Morrow, along with his daughter Jennifer were called to a small hut behind the clinic. Outside the hut, under a makeshift shelter, lying in the dirt was a young woman in the end stages of a terrible illness. Her parents were with her but despite their efforts, Tom was unable to have any type of conversation with her. Lying with her was a tiny baby girl—more dead than alive. Little Jennifer was completely listless and obviously suffering severe malnutrition. The grandparents explained that they had been feeding this one month old baby a porridge made from cassava root only twice a day. As a result, her little body had almost completely shut down.
Tom brought her home and our daughter Jennifer (age 17) made a bottle of milk and began feeding baby Jennifer. Immediately her tiny eyes flew open and she started to gulp the milk. She came to life and seemed to be so thankful.
Unfortunately, whether due to health issues caused by malnutrition or disease, baby Jennifer still had a long road to recovery. Her body struggled to absorb nutrients and she had diarrhea nearly all the time. She also vomited regularly and when inserting an IV proved difficult due to the size of her veins, she was admitted to a local hospital.
Nannies from the orphanage took turns staying with her as nurses are in very short supply in Zambia. After a few days there had been no improvement and due to the lack of attention and care available at the understaffed local clinic, Jennifer was brought back home.
Our daughter Jennifer looked after her fulltime—a huge responsibility for a 17 year old girl. Our local staff began talking about how perhaps it was better to just send baby Jennifer back to her grandparents, so she could die with them. But we could see in her eyes that she was a fighter, and had to give her a chance.
When I returned from an overseas trip, though having seen all the pictures of baby Jennifer, nothing could prepare me for how tiny and fragile she was. She cried a lot and seemed unhappy and uncomfortable.
Over the next few months we did all we could to care for and nurse her back to health, doing kangaroo therapy, getting her on a regular schedule and spending many a night cradling her as she fitfully tried to sleep. She was also put on an antibiotic which is given as a prophylactic to children when it is suspected that their mother had HIV/AIDS.
Almost immediately upon moving her to a regular schedule her whole personality changed. She became happier and much more peaceful. Slowly but surely she gained weight and her health began to stabilize.
Today you can’t even recognize the sickly baby that fought for her life over a year ago. Baby Jennifer is a happy little girl now. Amazingly, she reached most of her developmental milestones such as crawling, walking, etc. on time.
Right after she turned one year old she decided she didn’t want to be with the babies anymore and although she wasn’t walking yet she began spending time with the toddler group. She quickly learned to walk and now runs and plays so happily with them.
Our kids all enjoy baby Jennifer. While we try not to have favorites, when a baby has spent months in your home and you’ve watched that child develop and grow and you’ve spent many a sleepless night caring for and praying for them to make it though, there will always be a special bond.
This story contributed by Amy Morrow, project manager at African Educational Services