Mateo was one of nearly 17,000 people who receive a severe burn every year in Zambia, a country with one reconstructive plastic surgeon and 12.6 million people. When he was just five years old, Mateo tripped and fell into an open cooking fire. His mother and father—both farmers—were working in their fields on the farm that sustains their large family. For two years after the accident, Mateo received no treatment; his family simply couldn’t afford it.
After the accident, Mateo was unable to move his neck or hand, as the burn wounds had contracted and permanently fused his head to his neck and his fingers together. So when his mother heard about free surgery offered by Dr. Goran Jovic, Zambia’s only plastic surgeon and ReSurge International’s surgical outreach director, she made the agonizing decision to take Mateo to the city, leaving her other nine children at home.
Missing work to care for a sick child is a common occurrence for mothers around the world. However, for Mary, whose son Mateo so desperately needed reconstructive surgical care for his disabling burns, “missing work” meant a huge sacrifice. Not only did she have to travel far from home, but she also was leaving behind nine other children with a farm that barely sustained them. Although it was difficult to leave the others, especially at harvest time, Mateo’s mother knew it was an opportunity she could not pass up for her son, perhaps his only chance to have a normal life. Even though the surgery from ReSurge was free, leaving her other children and the precarious state of her family’s livelihood still made the decision to get treatment for Mateo a difficult one. Yet, she remembered with anguish the way that Mateo would hide his crippled hand each time the family went to church. She knew there was no way she could pass up this opportunity for her son.
After her son’s successful surgery, Mary was filled with conflicting emotions: relief that Mateo had a renewed chance to move his neck and arms, and concern that her time away at the hospital had placed a heavy burden on her nine other children. Though it had been a difficult decision, after seeing Mateo recovering on the hospital bed, Mary told us she was thankful she had come and that Mateo now had a chance for a brighter future.
Dr. Jovic restored Mateo’s neck and hand movement—and he now goes to school for the first time. He has hopes of becoming an accountant.