Monday, June 21, 2010

Staring Into the Face of Epilepsy and Burns

Ethelo is a young married woman. Six months ago, while cooking over a fire she had a seizure and fell face first into the flames. In Malawi, those with epilepsy are regarded as cursed, and because of this unfortunate cultural belief, no one would remove Ethelo from the fire, fearing her condition could be contagious. She arrived to our hospital seeking help for her scars. To avoid embarrassment, she wears a cloth wrapped around her entire head and stares down at her feet to watch her footing. She presents with a neck contracture, forcing her head to the left and eyelid contractures exposing her mucosa, painfully to the air. When asked how often she was having seizures at home, she replied 'everyday'. She denied that she was taking any medication and didn't seem to understand that it needed to be taken daily to avoid her convulsions. Near 25% of all patients we treat in Nkhoma have an associated seizure disorder that leads to their burn injury.
Ethelo is scheduled for the first of many reconstructive surgeries this week. We can improve some her scars functionally, but she will never appear the same. The scars will always be evident. Most heart wrenching is that her injury was completely preventable. With education regarding epilepsy, medication compliance and safety teaching around open fires we can prevent these horrific injuries.
Africa Burn Relief aims to enforce these prevention strategies and additionally help cover the costs of anti-convulsants. These medications, only about 5$/month per patient, are unaffordable to the common Malawian living in the villages.
If you are interested in aiding this project, consider a donation of $60 to fund medications for an entire year for an epileptic.

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