The majority of my time here in South Africa is spent at the amazing St. Joseph’s Home For Chronically Ill Children. I have always adored kids. From the day I decided to switch from being pre-law and instead go into medicine to become a pediatrician, I haven’t looked back. That’s one of the reasons my internship at St. Joseph’s Home (SJH) is so great. SJH is a wonderful facility for those children who have life-limiting and life-threatening illnesses. Each day that I am at SJH, I encounter kind, considerate and friendly nurses and staff members. There are so many wonderful children here who are just bubbling with excitement and filled to the brim with joy regardless of their condition. It is honestly such a privilege to be surrounded by them. JHU_Gauri who also works at my site, in her own blog mentioned some great and also heartrending facts about the kids who live at the Home.
The delightful lobby of St. Joseph's Home
St. Joseph’s Home is not only great in the care it provides for so many children, but also in its pioneering of an innovative short-term block therapy program. Founded by German nuns who did not believe in idle hands, SJH focuses not on the disabilities that limit them, but instead, rather on improving the abilities the children do have. A number of the children at the Home were in car accidents and suffer from traumatic brain injuries. A few of these children have been enrolled in the two-week block program in which they can receive speech, occupational and physiotherapy. After the therapy program ends, the facility sends rehab care workers to follow up on the progress of the children.
!An article about two adorable kids at SJH who were able to successfully progress to the next grade
For the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to shadow these therapists and never once have I found them to be lacking in compassion nor patience with any child, no matter how limited the child’s abilities were (they also certainly had the patience to answer the many questions I asked). It is such a pleasure to see these children who’ve suffered from a stroke or who have cerebral palsy, carry out the fun and creative tasks the therapists set out for them. Although it is heartbreaking to know what these children have been through, constantly seeing a smile on their faces never fails to cheer me up. As I watch them successfully complete each task, whether it is pronouncing a word or using their affected hand to throw a ball, I cannot help but to feel inspired by their tenacity to keep on improving.
An amazing child who is doing well at SJH
Since the block program is only two weeks, the therapists can only do so much before the time is up. Thus, the program requires that parents be an integral part of the process and attend at least four sessions so that when the child is discharged, the parent can continue the exercises. Unfortunately, although improvements are made in the program, many of these children regress in someway after being discharged. This is one of the few times I see the jovial therapists look defeated. Many of these children come from poverty stricken homes and their families face multiple issues. Many parents have various responsibilities such as having to go to work or caring for their other children and so they cannot give their child the attention he/she needs nor do many of them have the financial means to properly support their disabled child.
St. Joseph's Home allowed us to do a home visit in order to obtain a firsthand experience of the living situations of these children. In both homes we visited, a common concern was the child’s progress in school. After they are discharged, these children end up going to mainstream schools where there are forty kids to one teacher and so the teacher cannot give the individualized attention the child needs. Unfortunately, as a consequence, the child ends up falling behind. Transferring the child to a special school can be a long and arduous process and in the mean time the kids continue to have difficulties at their current schools. It is saddening to know that so many of these children regress or fall through the cracks after all the progress they had made at St. Joseph’s Home, especially since with the right care they would have flourished. At the end of my days at the Home, I always wish I could have been more helpful to those children instead of just observing their plight, and I am constantly wondering how I could have made more of an impact in their lives.
When I am taken away from those thoughts by doing some adventurous activity with the other girls on the trip, like hiking Lion’s Head (where I quickly found out I was not the world’s best hiker) or paragliding, I am able to immerse myself in the beauty of Cape Town. Being thousands of feet in the air and seeing all the beauty below, it is easy to just be in awe of what seems like a perfect surface. However, my time at St. Joseph’s Home has ensured that I will never forget the sad reality for so many children that lies beneath it all.
!Amazing view from when I went paragliding