A Year of Firsts


Sometimes it hits me that I have an unusual number of “firsts” in my life, and this year with MAF will most definitely fill my life to overflowing. I arrived in Kenya to begin a new job as Roving Journalist for Mission Aviation Fellowship, and a week later flew to Madagascar for the first of many research trips.

The last two days began with some interesting “firsts”.  MAF pilot, Josh Plett, flew us down to a village about one & a half hours from the Madagascar capital of Tana to visit a team of doctors on a week long “Madagascar Medical Safari”, referred to as MMS. We arrived on the forth of five days and stayed overnight. The plane landed at a grassy airstrip about 3 km away from a wide river on the opposite side from the village of Beroroha. Getting to the village required a drive to the river, crossing the river in a canoe-like boat, then walking for about 15 minutes in the sweltering sun to the hospital. We had left Tana at 6:30 AM, and arrived at the location at about 9:45, soaking with sweat, red faced, and in desperate need of liquid and a breeze of any kind.


In contrast, two of the doctors had been pulling teeth, and doing circumcisions since 6:30 AM, while the other three medical personnel (a doctor, nurse, and volunteer medical student) saw patients who filled the shaded area next to the building, waiting their turn. A pastor sang and preached to those waiting. By 10 am the first two doctors took a break to eat breakfast, and by 11:30 AM they were back to perform three major surgeries that lasted until 10 PM, without a lunch or dinner break.

The surgeries were a first for me. I had never really watched a full abdominal surgery before where I could see the inside organs of a person. And this was no ordinary abdominal surgery. The 37-year-old woman, Nestine, had a tumor the size of a volleyball. She looked pregnant, and had suffered from this condition for more than a year. With no money for a trip to Tana, plus surgery (costing over $300), lodging, food, and medical fees, they felt there was no hope. She would simply die eventually. MMS charged $7 for a surgery that lasted 2 ½ hours.


The second surgery was for a 16-year-old who had suffered from a hernia since he was a baby. It was a complicated surgery, the doctors said. The boy was given a spinal anesthesia so was conscious through the procedure, and the anesthesiologist read a Bible story to distract him during the surgery.

The third surgery was for a 30-year-old deaf man, Langa, whose hand was bitten by a crocodile three weeks earlier. They walked five hours from their village to the hospital where they received little help until the MMS doctors arrived, but by that time it was too late to save the hand which had turned black and smelled of rotting meat. It had to be amputated. It took the man a day to come to terms with the loss of his hand before he was ready to have the surgery. This was also a complicated surgery requiring tendons to be tied off, blood vessels sealed, and many other details I don’t understand – a three-hour surgery. I stayed for the first part where they literally just broke off the rotting fingers and bones but managed to save the thumb.


We slept that night in a tented camp set up for the MMS team, but had eaten and were in bed by the time the doctors finished around 11 pm.  6:30 AM to 11 PM. They kept these hours for three days in a row.

I asked 46-year-old Dr. Clara, who assisted Dr. Sylvain in the surgeries, how she felt about the hard week which included her sleeping bag getting wet from a rainstorm on the final night and spraining her wrist when she fell off a cart that tipped over on the way to the river on departure day.  She responded enthusiastically, “I loved it!”  Irene, the 23-year-old anesthesiologist, could barely express herself as she held her hands over her heart and her eyes filled up with tears, while she explained how meaningful it was for her to be helping her desperately poor countrymen and women.



  1. Cathy 22 February 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    Thank you for your stories and your photos. This will be first for me too seeing and hearing your stories of places I will never get to. Blessings. Namaste

    • LuAnne 22 February 2014 at 9:55 pm #

      Thank you, Cathy! I’ll try to give you many firsts from afar.

  2. Jeremy Hogarth 22 February 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    In a world where there is so much greed and selfishness, it’s simply heart warming to read of those people who simply do what they do because they can rather than sing their own praises – those people who actually make a difference.

    • LuAnne 22 February 2014 at 9:54 pm #

      I agree totally. There were moments of watching the doctors where I thought I had never seen such commitment and love for strangers. And these kind of stories are usually expats doing the work, so it was wonderful to seed Malagasies helping their own people.

  3. Jocelynr 23 February 2014 at 8:50 am #

    great photos! i cant believe the size of that tumor! egad!
    I especially love the pics of my main man. What a hottie. 🙂

    • LuAnne 23 February 2014 at 11:56 am #

      Josh has been amazing, Jocelyn!

  4. Lorraine 23 February 2014 at 10:43 am #

    Great work Lu. Glad you’re not squeamish. (I’m working on it.) Love each and every one of the dedicated medical team/pilots. Your words and images help to keep me thinking correctly about this world and my place in it. Huge thankful and loving hugs!

    • LuAnne 23 February 2014 at 11:55 am #

      Thanks so much, Lorraine. That’s exactly what I hope for.

  5. Helen Cadd 23 February 2014 at 10:47 pm #

    WOW! You amaze me, LU. I really didn’t think you could watch things like this. I’m so proud of you. I can’t help but think about Yvonne and how much she would have loved being with you and helping. You (and your incredible photos) are making a difference in lives. Thank you!!! MOM

  6. Mary 24 February 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Great photos and info. Welcome to Madagascar!

  7. Karina 24 February 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Amazing photographs and stories. Thank you for being brave enough to capture these for us 🙂

  8. corina de waal 25 February 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    great story; I still miss the MMS trips!

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