18 MayA smile from Karis

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This little angel has been with us since March this year. One of our Chinese staff chose the name Karis for her – a Greek name which means grace. This month, she has just turned eight years old and she weighs a little less than 8 kilograms.  Take a moment to think about that sobering ratio – not quite one whole kilogram on her tiny frame for every year she has been alive. But just a few months ago, she weighed only five kilograms. For perspective – that’s roughly 11 pounds … and the average American 3-month-old baby girl weighs between 11 and 14 pounds. So Karis was a very frail almost-eight-year-old.

She has cerebral palsy, making it difficult to swallow. So it’s likely she had never had enough to eat. Imagine having your entire experience of life coloured by hunger – not because food is lacking, but because you are unable to swallow it. Chronic malnutrition set in, affecting her body in many ways. She didn’t grow properly, her skin didn’t heal well, her body was always cold, and her immune system couldn’t function optimally. Brain development is affected by malnutrition too. Karis never had the chance to thrive, because her disability meant she simply didn’t get enough to eat.

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Karis was understandably miserable and anxious when we met her. We didn’t see many smiles in those early days. Most of the time, she looked at us warily, and cried whenever she was touched. Slowly we increased her nutrition. It’s important to be careful when starting a nutritional program with such an emaciated child – giving too much too soon can lead to other complications. Karis had a nasogastric tube placed so that our nurses could give precise feeds, and know she was getting every drop. She was on medication for her muscle spasms, along with daily massages. Gradually she gained weight and the sores on her body finally began to heal. She became less afraid and started to respond to affection. She began to show an interest in sensory play.

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And then – her smile blossomed! She has always been beautiful – but this smile is amazing. It took some time to make an appearance, but is worth every minute of the wait.

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Some days are hard in this job, that’s for sure. But to know that we have reached the heart of this terrified little girl and given her something to smile about – it’s like wining the lottery ten times over! Joy has arrived in Karis’s life, and we believe this is just the beginning.

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