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Flying for a Smile

Updated: Jan 20

Towards the end of 2020, without realising it, MAF pilot David Graf flew a young medevac patient with a serious and complex condition on behalf of our partners, In Deed and Truth (IDAT) and Samaritan’s Purse (SP) in South Sudan.  


Shuttle flights mean long busy days of flying for our pilots, with multiple stops, passengers and freight to check and load at every stop along the way. On that day, a young 12-year-old girl was just one more passenger, wearing a Covid mask, boarding the shuttle flight with her mum. A week later, two photos pinged into David’s WhatsApp feed of a young girl pre and post facial surgery. ‘I thought I would forward a couple of pictures of a young girl one of your pilots brought from Tonj last week,’ writes SP’s Health Advisor, Annette Bennett. ‘Abuoch had facial reconstruction surgery yesterday - nine hours in the operating theatre! We are praying for no infection this time.’ The brave young girl had travelled more than 700 miles and endured a long and complex operation in Uganda - and MAF had inadvertently helped her along the way. 

"Abuoch came to our clinic 3 years ago to register for the SP Cleft Lip Programme" explains Dr. Jono Mcleod from the In Deed and Truth Hospital in Tonj, South Sudan. Abuoch and her Mum walked two days to get to their clinic from a remote region. 'They have no health centres, schools, or any other development, it’s the poorest region I’ve ever been to,’ the missionary doctor shares. Abuoch was originally brought to see the Samaritan’s Purse Cleft Team, run by Dr. Jono. She did not have a cleft lip, but another condition called Noma, which requires different and more extensive surgery with a lengthy hospital stay. Since 2018, when Abuoch was first seen by the Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon, Samaritan’s Purse Canada has been fundraising & researching the right place for repair. Last year they thought they’d found the solution. Abuoch had the surgery, which was sadly unsuccessful. Again, in November 2020, she boarded the MAF shuttle flight to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. It was the first stop on her journey back to health.   


Many people haven’t heard of Noma for one simple reason. In developed countries, it doesn’t exist. The neglected tropical disease known as “the face of poverty” develops in children living in extreme poverty and targets those with weakened immune systems due to malnutrition, measles, malaria and HIV in their most vulnerable years, between 2 and 6 years of age. Worldwide, 85% of the estimated 30,000 - 40,000 children who contract the disease each year will die. Yet, Noma is entirely treatable. The devastating condition, which is a Greek word that means ‘to devour’, starts as a gum lesion or sore inside the mouth which can be easily treated with a good oral hygiene routine. Children who survive the advanced stages are left permanently disfigured with difficulty eating. Children like Abuoch, who come from isolated rural communities are particularly vulnerable to Noma due to the lack of available healthcare. There is a huge stigma attached to conditions like Noma (and cleft lip) which is rooted in fear that the condition is the result of a curse. As a result, families become isolated and often seek help too late. 


Thankfully, for Abuoch, it wasn’t too late. The skill and dedication of not one but two medical missions means that she has received the radical surgery. Last year she was disappointed as the graft failed due to an infection. This time, it’s a whole different story! After her nine-hour long surgery, her joy knew no bounds. Abuoch is now back in Tonj where she is on the road to recovery under the care of Dr. Jono and his team. ‘She’s doing well,’ he says, ‘but has a minor post op wound infection that we’ve treated with IV antibiotics. It’s important to catch the infection now before it spreads, because the whole graft would be lost and she’d be back to square one.’ When Dr Jono asked the family about the difference the surgery has made, they said that the biggest blessing is that Abuoch can now go to school and eventually get married. After a difficult start, the future is bright for this precious and feisty teenager. "There’s no ongoing treatment and no costs to settle as the SP have generously paid for everything surrounding her repair, they’re amazing!", Dr. Jono explains.


A phone call to the MAF Bookings Team from the IDAT Founding Director, Suzy Kuj, and another seat is filled by someone like Abuoch or Dr. Jono, one of a handful of doctors serving a few hundred thousand people in the area of Tonj. The impact of flights isn’t always obvious, and we don’t always find out how the stories end. MAF’s weekly shuttles allow people to travel when they need to, without having to charter a plane. Planning is easier when you know that every Wednesday, the MAF plane will come. It is a small service that MAF provides for people like Abuoch and her mum – so they can receive a very great gift from 'Samaritan’s Purse' and 'In Deed and Truth Ministries'. 


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