Dying from dengue

“Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!” The words came from the small six-year-old girl who had already been sick for four days. What became devastatingly clear was that Abi had dengue haemorrhagic fever, and had now gone into shock. Her parents had been watching her deteriorate but, like so many of their friends and neighbours, they had no familiarity with the early signs of the disease. Knowledge of these symptoms would have told them that this was not the ‘normal fever’ so commonly experienced in this tropical land. Knowing this information can mean the difference between life and death.

Celebrating a rare ‘day off’, my Saturday was interrupted by a desperate call for blood donors for “a six-year-old girl who was dying from dengue.” The phone calls and emails started and donors began giving blood. Others were on standby. Prayer calls went out – to the local community and further afield – as Abi’s condition remained critical.

Who is this little girl? Abi’s family are Christians who moved to our strict Muslim area just two years ago. Her father worked for a car sales company, which tried to get him to do dishonest things. Instead he resigned, and just a month ago he and his wife started a business here in our city. They had limited contact with the broader Christian community in this city governed by sharia law and felt very alone at this terrible time. Far from extended family and familiar home surroundings, they stood watching their little girl slipping away from them. 

Friends of the family kicked into action and Abi’s parents were astonished as strangers came and went from the hospital, donating blood to a little girl they hadn’t met. They heard of people they didn’t know who were praying for them and their local friends surrounded them and kept vigil with them, coordinating donors and updating information.

On Sunday evening, the fifth day, Abi went into a coma. Her parents asked for her to be transferred to the large provincial hospital where there were more facilities in the Intensive Care Unit. Such a transfer in itself would take a toll on Abi’s failing body, and more prayer calls went out to more people unknown to the family. Pray for a safe transfer … pray Abi can make the trip … pray the doctors at her hospital will agree to transfer her … and so it went.

As an acute care nurse, I knew that Abi’s chance of surviving medically were about zero. From information received, it seemed she had septicemia, was in shock and her vital organs were failing. From my experience, her chance of surviving would indeed require a miracle.

Well, the miracle happened! I cried as I translated the message on my phone that came through the next morning. Expecting that I would hear Abi was now with Jesus, instead I was reading: “Praise God last night Abi was successfully transferred to [the main provincial] hospital. The transfer went well and her condition has begun to improve. She has been calling for her mother and requested food. This morning there will be a result from an X-ray of her lungs and it is hoped that today she can leave the ICU area.”

My husband and I, with our director, were privileged to visit Abi a few days later and hear in more detail the horror and relief of this family’s journey over the past week. Abi’s mother wept as she explained the depth of their agony the two times Abi was misdiagnosed, and how it was not until she felt Abi’s icy body one morning that she knew her child was dying and the health providers finally realized what was happening and began resuscitation.

Abi herself was awake when we visited but had not walked for 10 days. She was discharged to bed rest at home a week later and finally after three weeks of illness was able to walk and return to school.

Abi remembers our hospital visit and still talks about it, and the family has just recently returned to their home city due to work circumstances. The evening before they left, they came to our house to share a meal and to say goodbye and once again to say “thank you.” This whole experience has been a blessing to Abi and her family through her recovery and the sense of belonging to a large community of faith that exists in this city where our faith is actively opposed and believers are often discriminated against and persecuted. 

It has also been a joy and blessing to those of us who walk alongside the local church in its varied forms of expression here. Thank you to those of you who prayed for Abi and her family, and for the calls to prayer that we send out from this land. Please be encouraged that your prayers are so often answered, even though you may not always hear the results.

We especially say “thank you” to the One who lovingly gave healing to Abi and who has given us the honour to serve in this amazing place with all its joys and challenges.

The author is an Interserve Partner in South East Asia

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