Central African Republic

Sedi Mbelani: An incredible recovery

A nurse from Congo Brazzaville worked as MSF’s Deputy Medical Coordinator in Bangui, Central African Republic. She shares the story of Fanny, a patient she met at a project in Ndele early in 2017.

There are many patients and many cases that I remember from my time in the field, but during a recent assignment in the Central African Republic (CAR), there was a particular patient who stands out.

She was a young lady named Fanny, around 19 or 20 years old. She had first come to the clinic in Ndele two years before in 2014, pregnant, and suffering from serious burns all over her body and legs.

The burns were from boiling hot water, and unfortunately, they were so severe that nothing could be done to keep the pregnancy. Doctors sadly couldn’t save her baby.

But the team tried to do what they could to help Fanny. Her burns were very serious, so all they really could do was clean and dress the wounds and give it time. They tended to her burns while she spent many months recovering at the hospital.

In 2015, a new doctor, Dr Isabel, arrived in Ndele. She saw Fanny and proposed to try and refer her to a hospital in the capital Bangui where she could get a skin graph.

A surgeon went to see her, but they said her condition was still too serious and it wouldn’t be possible to do a skin graph. Once again they dressed the wounds and waited.

Dr Isabel completed her mission and left CAR. Fanny was still at the hospital.

A year later, in 2016, Dr Isabel returned to the project, now to work as the Medical Team Leader. She realised Fanny was still there and decided that they had to try once more to get her further treatment.

They sent pictures of Fanny to the surgeons in Bangui and proposed that they need to help her.

The surgeons said it was a very complicated procedure because of the extent of Fanny’s wounds. They felt they couldn’t do it. But Dr Isabel pushed for them to try, saying Fanny’s condition was better than it had been a year ago, so they decided to try.

But there was another challenge. It’s difficult to travel from Ndele to Bangui, there is no way by car, you can only fly from the project to the capital in a small plane, and flights are not often available. Again, Fanny had to wait.

Finally, Dr Isabel was ending her second mission, and Fanny was still there. I arrived from Bangui to fill in for Dr Isabel while they waited for a new Medical Team Leader to arrive.

For months, this doctor had pushed to get extra treatment for Fanny and now her time there was up.

Until finally, on the very last day when Dr Isabel was about to leave Ndele, the team found space for Fanny on the same plane. Finally, she could be evacuated to Bangui for the procedure.

To see this young girl travelling to get care with the same doctor who had been pushing for her to get treatment for two years, was incredible.

It was emotional, everyone in the hospital who knew the girl and her family was crying. Fanny went to the capital, had the surgery, and her legs were put in a cast.

I recently heard that she is now back home and practising to walk with crutches.

MSF stopped working in Ndele in March 2017, but has worked in Central African Republic since 1997.

Find out more about MSF's work in the CAR