In these places, roughly one in three children under five are battling malaria, and many do not access the medication they need to survive. As a country, we have a weak health system with very few doctors and terrible roads.
At sunrise, villagers wake and head to the fields, trying to find something to eat and – if they are lucky – enough to sell. I know this life, growing up as a village boy myself.
When I was seven, my best friend passed away in the night. I didn’t understand it – we had been playing football together that evening – but it was malaria. I also remember the village women who died during childbirth because they live too far from a health centre. Since then, I was determined to be a doctor. I just want to help my people.
One of the women in Muzombo is called Claudine, and I want to tell you her story now. It is inspiring and sad, but you must hear it to understand why I do what I do – and why MAF is so important in our country.
Together, although we have many tragedies, we are fighting malaria and saving lives.
I will never forget the first time I met Claudine. It was August 2017, and she arrived on a motorbike with her husband and newborn twins. Travelling from Muzombo to my hospital in Vanga took 15 hours – it is hard for me to believe they survived that journey.
I already knew the twins were unique. Word had spread fast, and I was preparing myself for their arrival. The two baby girls – Anick and Destin – were joined at the navel, and shared internal organs.
Only 60% of conjoined twins across the world survive – let alone in these parts of the Congo. Even now, I can’t fathom how Claudine delivered them naturally in the village. The babies were miracles.
The parents looked sad and lost, and all their hopes were pinned on me. Never had conjoined twins been separated in our country, and these two had a 5% chance of survival.
But 5% was enough and I had hope. Quickly, I called a professor in the Congolese capital Kinshasa. When he agreed to help, I knew the 300-mile journey from Vanga to Kinshasa was life-threatening.
So, I called MAF.
Within 48 hours, MAF Pilot Brett Reierson and his wife Jacklyn landed to medevac the family. Crowds of locals surrounded the aircraft to glimpse the miracle babies. It was the first time Claudine had seen a plane – let alone set foot in a busy city. This was a very big journey.
Later, Claudine said, ‘We were praying that the Lord would send angels to save our children. We don’t have wings – but God sent us wings.’
That’s how people see an MAF aircraft in the DRC – they feel that hope is coming.
Once they had landed in Kinshasa, all we could do was pray for Anick and Destin. Claudine remembers, ‘At 4am, we left the babies in the operating room, and we were told we should be in our room, begging God to help. At 6pm after 14 hours, we were so happy when they returned – and we were able to hold one baby each.’
Three weeks after their surgery, MAF flew the family back to Vanga. I can’t describe how happy I was to see them again. We had succeeded against the odds; but we had to stay in touch – because these babies were fragile.
However, when the pandemic hit, all contact with the family was lost.
Five years later, MAF asked me to go in search of Claudine to see how the twins were doing.
But when we finally found them, it was very sad news. Both twins had contracted malaria, and Destin had passed away in her mother’s arms.
After everything they had been through, I couldn’t imagine that Destin could die. But malaria continues to kill every day in my country, and I see it all the time in Vanga hospital. People travel far to reach help – and so many are too late. The leading cause of death in our children’s ward is malaria – without a doubt.
So often I am in front of patients with medical needs beyond my skills, and they have no financial resources. This is our everyday life, and it’s so challenging. That’s why I call on MAF for emergency evacuations – Anick and Destin are a typical example.
That is why I am telling you this story today – to show you how important it is to reach people in remote regions with the treatment they need. By supporting MAF, you can help make that possible.
Claudine found it difficult to talk to me because of what had happened. She felt scared that I would be angry or disappointed because of all the help she’d received from MAF and my medical colleagues.
But that is not what I feel and, as I am sure you agree, every life is worth fighting for. It’s a tragedy that so many children like Destin must die because they can’t reach medical help in time. But we keep on fighting, and this gives me purpose in life.
In October 2022 MAF was able to bring Claudine and Anick back to Vanga so I could offer medical checks and show them they deserved to be cared for no matter what. Anick was treated for malnutrition and my relationship with the family has been restored.
Claudine said, ‘Sometimes Anick gets sick, and we feel desperate – but when you sent someone to find us in our village, I felt comforted, and I found hope. Then I knew that Dr Mudji is never mad, but he is ready to help us. I want Anick to grow up and be someone important.’
Although this story doesn’t have a happy ending, I want it to show you that – by supporting MAF – doctors like me can both save lives and send a message of hope into the hardest-to-reach places.
his is what keeps me going, and I can’t give up.
Please give a gift to MAF so that doctors like me can help treat preventable diseases across hidden parts of the DRC and beyond.
Dr Junior Mudji
Vanga Evangelical Hospital, DRC (MAF partner)
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