When the team was asked to see Alfred, they were expecting to see an elderly man.
Alfred’s sister described him as disabled who had trouble leaving his house. The team members immediately pictured a frail, housebound, old man, the type of patient YWAM Medical Ships – Australia (YWAM MSA) was used to making house visits to.
As the team made their way up the steps of a house perched on the beach, they were surprised to see a 29 year-old man sitting on the floor overlooking Kui Bay where the MV YWAM PNG was anchored. Alfred was friendly and eager to know what country each team member came from and what NRL team they followed (Alfred is an avid Broncos fan).
Alfred had paddled with his sister from his village across the bay to see YWAM MSA’s medical team that day.
As the team introduced themselves, his disabilities soon became obvious. His fingers on both hands were shortened to stumps on each knuckle and there were burn scars and wounds all over his arms.
An old brown t-shirt was wrapped around Alfred’s right foot and tied with a piece of twine at the ankle. He used a stick to steady himself as he walked.
The team began to ask about his condition; how he lost fingers, how he got the burn scars and wounds, what the brown t-shirt was covering on his foot.
Alfred shared his story.
“When I was in grade six, I came down with a fever from malaria. I slept close to the fire one night to keep warm.
“When I woke up the fire had moved – it had burnt my hands, arms, legs, and feet.
“That was when my sickness started, I lost my fingers, some of my toes, and my foot. I started to loose feeling and now have never-ending sores,” said Alfred.
Despite his condition, Alfred is quite the entrepreneur. He runs the local trade store selling rice, sugar, and noodles. A venture he began on his own a few years ago.
YWAM MSA’s volunteer doctor, Dr Brian Hopkins, asked to see Alfred’s foot. Under the carefully wrapped t-shirt, was the remainder of Alfred’s swollen foot with an angry-looking wound exposing his flesh that had been wrapped in gauze.
Dr Brian continued to assess Alfred’s condition. All the signs and symptoms pointed to leprosy; lying in a fire for long enough to receive severe burns before feeling it – the never-ending wounds, and the extensive nerve damage.
When Alfred was asked how his condition made him feel, he paused to think. He then leaned in closer and in a quiet voice he said, “sad and lonely.”
Alfred has lived with the condition for over 20 years. He refers to it at his ‘sickness’, his family refers to it as his ‘disability’ but never had it been labeled as leprosy.
Morobe Provincial Disease Control and Surveillance Officer, Edwin Benny, was working with YWAM MSA’s team that day and made the official diagnosis.
“It is the most severe case I’ve ever seen. I was shocked to hear he had lived with leprosy for over 20 years at such a young age – a disease that is curable,” said Edwin.
Yet, when light is shed, darkness must flee; Alfred’s condition was no longer a hidden mystery under a dirty brown t-shirt. It had a name, it was curable – there was hope.
Dr Brian and Edwin shared with Alfred that 12-months of treatment can cure his disease. Though the deformities are irreversible, the progression of the disease can be stopped; his wounds can heal and his mobility can improve.
Edwin registered Alfred as a leprosy patient and arranged for medication to be transported to him from Morobe Health Station. He plans to contact Leprosy Mission and arrange for them to visit Alfred to assist him with his mobility and provide support as he battles the disease.
Alfred was provided with a pair of crutches adjusted to his height, and custom-made shoes donated by one of YWAM MSA’s volunteers to aid in the healing of the wound on his right foot.
The ripple effect of Alfred’s case has begun. Edwin plans to use Alfred’s case as a way of raising awareness and improving their training amongst health officers.
“Next month we are running a week-long training on leprosy in Lae. Alfred’s condition has highlighted to me the urgency for more health workers to attend this training.
“I will now be asking the health officers from Morobe District to attend – I will use Alfred’s case to raise awareness.
“We will learn from Alfred’s case and we will be stronger because of it,” said Edwin.
When the YWAM MSA team was preparing to leave, Alfred shared that he will be turning 30 on October 15th.
Happy 30th birthday to you Alfred, may the story of your perseverance and never-give-up spirit influence many, and may your 30th represent a new era for you. We are privileged to be a part of your story and your legacy.