Liberia: The boy who coloured his way to recovery

Dr Daniel Lucey describes the day that talented 10-year-old Momodu was discharged from MSF’s treatment centre in Monrovia, and the leaving present given to him by admiring staff.

Today, Momodu is going home. Ten-year-old Momodu has been here for three weeks, which is a long time in an Ebola treatment centre. Yesterday afternoon we got his latest test results, and at last they were negative. He was sitting in the tent closest to our office, so we could tell him the results straight away. He was overjoyed. He had a huge smile on his face, and was jumping up and down and waving his arms around. He was so happy to have survived Ebola.

When Momodu arrived here, he was very sick. He couldn’t even sit up in bed by himself. He had to rely on the nurses and stronger patients who were already recovering to help him drink and eat.

I like to call patients who are recovering their strength ‘pre-survivors’. Although their blood tests have shown that they are not yet ready to be discharged, they are strong enough to walk around, and to help look after the weaker patients.

Momodu was helped a lot by one man in particular – a patient who stayed on at the hospital even after he had been cured. It really helped Momodu to have someone there to look after him, day and night, until he had the strength to sit up by himself, to feed himself, and eventually to walk out of the tent and sit in a chair outside. It was a very special moment when he was able to do that.

While Momodu was recovering, he always sat in a particular spot in the shade with an 11 year old girl, a five-year-old boy, and two younger children.

Playing together, feeding each other and making each other’s spirits strong can really help people fight off the Ebola virus, whether they are children or adults.

One thing that Momodu loves to do is to draw pictures – beautiful pictures in colour. Alessia, an MSF nurse from Italy, gave Momodu some coloured pencils and drawing paper. Each day he did a new picture – he showed me at least 10 drawings he had done. Of course, you can’t take anything out of the high-risk zone, not even paper, and so we took photographs of the pictures, and had them enlarged and laminated. Today we gave them to him as a leaving present.

Momodu has really lifted our spirits. The nurses, the physician assistants and I have put copies of his drawings on the outside walls of the office. People passing by stop to admire them. Momodu is a very talented young boy, and I can’t wait to see what he’s doing in 15 years – I hope by then he is a famous Liberian artist. But today, Momodu looks like any normal 10-year-old: smiling, walking, talking and drawing more beautiful pictures. It’s a very happy day for everyone.