The photo at left is of Jagdish when I first met him. At 18 months old he had the typical characteristics of a marasmus child: facial features that made him look elderly, no body fat, dry wrinkled skin and very irritable. He wasn’t the only one in his village suffering in this condition. His neighbour Dinesh was just as ill. These boys spent two weeks in the hospital together. For both children, stage-4 protein-energy malnutrition was the diagnosis.
Jagdish and Dinesh were severely anemic and both boys required blood transfusions and were fed through tubes. Doctors here have told me that the survival rate of severely malnourished children is quite low. There is a point of no return. The body’s ability to recognize and absorb nutrients is governed by proteins. When the body is protein malnourished it eventually loses its ability to absorb anything at all. During their stay in the hospital I watched these boys change.
Just as importantly I saw their parents change. With hindsight I now know that all four parents believed that their children would not survive. And, if their children were going to die, they wanted them to die at home. It is unfortunate that in these villages it is the norm for children in such condition to die. These parents were not being pessimistic they were being realistic. During the first week at the hospital I felt their urgency to go home. But, I knew that going home surely meant that the boys would die. Daily conversations filled with encouragement and acknowledgement of the little milestones that the boys would pass inspired all to stay the course. Those little milestones became large ones: a daily weight gain of 100 grams, focused attention and even a smile.
Jagdish and Dinesh’s parents became believers as they saw the life coming back into their children. The boys had successfully pulled their parents through this ordeal. Rakhi Seva has helped many children make the journey back from malnutrition. Jagdish and Dinesh are proof that we can survive. Below are photos of Jagdish (left) and his friend Dinesh taken months after their recovery.