Toro is a kind and gracious man who sincerely loves the Lord. As I’ve gotten to know him, I see a depth of wisdom and stability. Interacting with him today, you wouldn’t suspect that for many years he was trapped in a world of dysfunction. But God set Toro free, and today he is a vibrant witness to the power of Jesus’ blood.
Toro’s story begins in the Cook Islands, and it continues today in Texas.
The Cutting Edge at Togo
by Neville Cresdee July, 2011
Kokou, the Togolese boy, was barely 5 years old. He lay on the operating room table, oblivious to his surroundings. The assistant surgeon was Dr. James of the local Togolese hospital. He worked quietly and with confidence. As a visiting surgeon, he was here to learn all that he could from Anastasis' maxillo-facial surgeon, Dr. Gary Parker.
Dr. Parker stood across from Dr. James at Kokou's head and gazed toward the illuminated x-rays of Kokou's jaw. He deliberated in silence, assessing the film and confirming the best way of surgical entry.
Hundreds of patients had passed through Dr. Parker's hands, but he was unaware that the total number of surgeries for this present Togolese outreach would be 467. Of these, 161 would be maxillo-facial.
We had already witnessed a near hysteria scene some weeks before. During the patient screening process, thousands of needy Togolese had stormed the gates of a reception centre, pleading for medical help. Sick children were passed or even tossed over the gates to gain medical attention. In the face of such large numbers, it is miraculous that loving care is dispensed to each patient.
When witnessing surgery for the first time, it is difficult to accept what is revealed by a surgeon's scalpel as anything less than the invasion of a sacred area. A complicated, delicate human being, known to have millions of intricate brain cells alone, is suddenly opened up to reveal the inward bodily functions. For some spectators, the experience may be one of fear. Others may be fascinated. Mine was one of shock and awe.
Kokou was sick, as was every patient who comes to Anastasis. His need was very real. But as an onlooker, I found it necessary to shut away any image of Kokou as a personality, once the surgery began in earnest. As the intensity of the surgery increased and probing became deeper, I looked at Kokou as a collection of arteries, flesh, organs, bones and blood, especially blood. Of that, there was some abundance.
Dr. Lur forewarned me that as a young Doctor, he had fainted watching his first surgery and had ended up underneath the operating table. By grace, I was spared such an encounter, but I must confess to some anxiety.
There was a strong personal awareness that this was one of God's valuable creations the surgeons were cutting into. The full medical term for Kokou's operation was "left temporo mandibular joint condylectomy and reconstruction with costo-chondral graft."
When I first met Kokou, it was obvious that he was an exceptional character, even in the midst of his pain. Dr. Bing said hallo to him with the normal greeting that "black brothers" often extend to one another with an open palm held upwards. Instantly, Kokou slapped the offered palm downwards with his own palm and tried to smile. With his locked jaw, this was almost impossible, but he wasn't going to let the occasion slip away. He was, of course, found fit enough to undergo surgery.
At the age of one, Kokou had developed an infection in his left jaw bone joint. As the infection increased, the left jaw joint became fused to the skull. This left Kokou with the inability to open his mouth beyond a quarter of an inch, and therefore most of his diet was liquids. By the time he came to the Mercy Ship at the age of four, he could only open his mouth about an eighth of an inch. Natural growth couldn't proceed in his left jaw, but the right jaw was growing normally. His face was being progressively deformed. The distortion at the age of four was minimal, but by the time he was nine or ten years old he would go through a major growth spurt. Without surgery, Kokou's face would become severely disfigured.
Kokou's surgery was lengthy and not without some medical drama. He lost a lot of blood, and after surgery he was sent to the intensive care unit.
Upon visiting the ICU ward in the morning, there wasn't too much movement from Kokou. He was still recovering from the shock of surgery. It was obvious he needed some peace and quiet to recover.
On the second day Kokou was moved to the Recovery ward. He remained heavily bandaged and would be sent home this way. His eyes were already registering hope as he peered through the gauze. Kokou would return in a few weeks for bandage removal.
* * * * *
The surgical ward held patients with a variety of ailments. Several were admitted for cataract surgery. Many had serious facial defects. Some were recovering from the removal of large tumors. The Togolese people would never have easy access to the privileges enjoyed by Europeans and North Americans, so these surgeries were an enormous opportunity.
My initial feelings for these people was one of sadness. Momentarily, I wondered if the surgery would improve their lives. But then the "miracles" started. As each patient began to recover from surgery and regain their strength, their outlooks visibly changed. Great sadness was replaced by positive reaction to the loving care they received.
Some of the most passionate responses come from the ophthalmic patients. After eye surgery, the patients typically stare with disbelief at their reflection in a mirror. Moving from blindness caused by cataracts to fully restored sight leaves many of them speechless. Some are passive for awhile, unable to express the joy rising up within them. A few will break out into loud whoops and hollers, but this is rare because the overall expression is that of renewed dignity and joy. The unique array of emotions that radiate from the recovery ward is quite humbling.
Racial and cultural barriers are completely dropped in spontaneous recognition of these Christian acts from the West. Every patient eventually expresses enormous gratitude to the surgeons, once they comprehend the full effect of surgery. Every one of them apologizes for not having any money to pay. Some just cry as they try and shape the words of "thank you". Some are so overcome with emotion that the "thank you" doesn't quite escape their lips. At such a point, the doctors assure them that "it's okay".
So for a few days, these Togolese people who live in a difficult environment were pampered and loved. In air-conditioned surroundings with increased comforts provided by technology, they were relieved of their harsh world for just a little while. Nurses and locals helped carry a never-ending supply of tea and biscuits to the patients and played for hours with their children.
In Togo, the advent of "Mercy Ships" really was a major miracle in their lives. They will never forget the "big white ship" that came from over the seas and changed their lives forever. While still on the ship, the Togolese expressed their gratitude through song. "Mo Mo Mo Mo. Ad Ya Y Ya Mami!" This means, "Thanks, thanks, thanks goes to God!" They stopped to pray and then continued with another song. This carried on for at least an hour each night until they finally went to bed with grateful hearts.
* * * * *
Weeks later, Kokou and his mother returned to the ship, bringing a gift of about 50 bananas. Kokou's ear-to-ear grin spoke to all the staff who greeted him. It was the only "thank you" that any of us needed.
Dr. Parker was pleased with Kokou's progress, informing us all that his bone graft was completely successful and that his young patient's mouth could already open about 12mm. This figure was expected to increase rapidly over the following few weeks.
Kokou's story is only one among several hundred. Many lives are being radically transformed by dedicated Christian medical teams. Such is the work of Mercy Ship Anastasis, which translated means "Resurrection." This IS the work of a resurrected Christ, giving new hope and new life to our needy world.