I am a doctor caring for children with Burkitt lymphoma in Vanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After a short break in Germany, I returned to Vanga in early January. One of my first questions was - how are our BL kids doing? Nina was just finishing her 6th cycle of chemotherapy. When I left for my break, she was quite sick. I found her in a health center 60 kilometers away from Vanga and she was barely breathing and had huge swellings on both sides of her face. All of us at the hospital wondered if she would live. She made it! Now, she is smiling and running around playing. Other children with BL came to the hospital and we had 6 of these children in one room. Two were very sick. One boy was permanently blind from disease affecting the nerve that provides vision. And, an 11 year boy had a huge abdominal mass. We asked ourselves, how will these two boys tolerate the first cycle of treatment? We were afraid that the boy with the big abdominal mass who so sick and so weak in his bed might die of complications caused by the tumor breaking down once chemotherapy started. Could the child who was blind tolerate treatment needed to further prevent the spread of disease to his central nervous system? But, both Jona and Kalala came through the first cycle – although they suffered a lot during those first few days of treatment. But, slowly and surely things changed. Jona told me one morning, “I want to go fishing”. So, I asked him, “Oh, do you really want to go fishing?” What a miracle that his wish came true a few days later when Jona went fishing at the nice Kwilu River near the Vanga Hospital. Kalala, even though he is blind, started to entertain the entire Vanga Hospital pediatric ward by singing and playing his homemade guitar. He even taught Modia, another child suffering and recovering from BL to play the guitar. Because these children shared one room, had the same diagnosis and treatment – and being about the same age, they have all become friends. Just like other children, they play and dance together, try to find out who is the strongest of the six, and even share meals together.
It was a pleasure to return to Vanga Hospital to witness this – the return to life for these children who I feared would die.
My staff and I are so glad to be able to help children like these and to see that wonderful things can happen for children with Burkitt lymphoma in Vanga, a faraway place in the bush of the Congo.
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