Bone to Muscle

July 30, 2014

by Kim Bryan Penserga, nutrition field worker for Samaritan’s Purse in the Philippines

A young boy is brought back from the brink of death after receiving nutrition treatment from Samaritan’s Purse.

As I browsed through a coworker’s photos, I wondered what interesting pictures I would see. I thought I’d find more breathtaking views of places he’s been to while doing field work. But instead of sceneries taking my breath away, the pictures of a precious child’s recovery from malnutrition did the job.

After showing the pictures to other coworkers, we felt called to interview the mother and to learn the story of how she struggled to save her child. Samaritan’s Purse staff Gen (left) and Kim (right) went to visit Marilyn and two-year-old Joshua.

Bone To Muscle1After crossing rivers and ponds, we arrived on site. Shortly after greeting the mother, Marilyn, we began our interview. Her 2-year-old child wasn’t always malnourished. Joshua was an energetic and playful boy who weighed a good 26 pounds. His struggle to survive didn’t begin until Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines.

On November 8, 2014, 295 mph gusts roared through the trees and houses, ripping out everything in its path. Joshua, along with his mother, brother, and father, ran for the nearby hills to find refuge. They were afraid that the airborne broken wood and crumpled sheet metal would harm them.

They took cover beside a rocky road. They lay for hours while getting drenched in the torrential rain and dodging debris, all the while praying. It took nearly two hours for the blowing and howling to stop. Just when they thought the worst was over, stronger gusts followed, as the eye of the storm had just passed.

“I really thought that was it,” Marilyn said.

When it was over, the exhausted family stood up, only to find that the once cheerful barangay they called home was now a desolated and wasted pile of metal, wood, and dirt. It didn’t end there. With no home and nowhere to turn, they weathered three long days and nights soaked in the cold showers that followed Yolanda.

Bone To Muscle 2Finally, the Philippine Red Cross provided them with a tarpaulin and blanket to act as their temporary shelter for a month. Eleven days into the month, Joshua shot up with fever and started having diarrhea and severe vomiting, leading to his rapid drop of weight. He went from 26 pounds to 13 pounds.

His muscles wasted away to the point that he couldn’t walk, and his breathing began to be labored. It was a result of their diet of dirty rice, unfiltered spring water, and bananas taken from the fallen trees. Marilyn began roaming the city streets looking for anything that could help Joshua.

Marilyn spent her Christmas and New Year at various distribution points looking for food, water, and medication. Each time, she only received enough supplies to last a week. But supplies weren’t the only thing she received. Marilyn had to listen to comments from the people around her.

“Your child is a lost cause,” they said. “He barely blinks. His head is already anchored to his shoulder.”

When asked how she felt about the comments, she replied with teary eyes.

“It hurt,” she said. “I’d cry on the road alone. I’d cry through the night.”

It lasted for days. She started having second thoughts about bringing Joshua out in public because the stigma was hard for her to handle, but she didn’t let words get in her way. She continued walking with Joshua in her arms; she pushed on even with her tears and broken heart.

She scoured the streets with only her son’s survival on her mind. It was around mid-February when she heard that a doctor from the city health office was in her barangay conducting check-ups and giving out medicine, supplements, and various food items. Marilyn ran to her and asked for help.

Bone To Muscle 3The doctor gave her rations and supplies before referring Joshua to the city nutrition action officer, who then passed him to Samaritan’s Purse. When word reached our ears, Samaritan’s Purse acted immediately, fetching Joshua from his home, treating him, and then delivering him to the International Medical Corps stabilization center where severely malnourished clients are treated free of charge.

Joshua and his mom stayed in the center for seven days while he recovered from the lost weight. When they stepped out of the hospital, people could see the improvement in Joshua’s state. His arms were stronger, his chest was larger, and his face was rounded. Heads turned when people realized that the Joshua they thought was a lost cause was now the round and chubby child who ran around with a smile.

Today, Joshua weighs 22 pounds and is growing. He’s still being treated and monitored by Samaritan’s Purse. His days now are similar to the ones before the storm, with sprinting across the fields alongside his friends, coming home exhausted from laughter and enjoyment, and romping with his older brother.

His mother and father cannot express the gratitude they have for the people who helped them bring their rollicking child back and to God who allowed this miracle to happen.

As we left, we realized that this child survived because of his parents’ hard work, dedication, faith, and prayer. Those are qualities that a person cannot afford to lose amid any crisis that a human heart has to face.