One more Angel in Heaven

One more Angel in Heaven


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Chronicle from “St. Bernard” Dispensary in Ushetu, Tanzania-Africa

 Ushetu, March 15, 2023

Dear Religious Family and friends:

We would like to share with you one of the stories from our dispensary in Ushetu.

In this health apostolate, day in and day out, we have contact with people who suffer from illnesses that make them come to the “Church hospital” to seek healing.  The “St. Bernard” Dispensary belongs to the Diocese of Kahama and is located in a rural area, 70 km. from the city of Kahama, on the same plot of land as our Parish “Our Lady of Lourdes”, next to the Parish school “Stella Matutina” and the houses of the Fathers and Sisters.

Last week, on March 8, the feast of St. John of God, Patron Saint of hospitals and of health workers, a woman carrying a baby in her arms came to us in the morning.  The receptionist informed me: “Sister, there is a lady here because her baby is sick but she cannot afford to pay for treatment”.  As we usually do in such cases, we treated her and her baby free of charge.

The woman’s name was Irene. She was about 28 years old and five days before, she had given birth at home. She was dejected and sad, she spoke little and only asked for treatment for her child.  She had no identification papers for herself, nor for the baby. She was barefoot and had only a cloth to cover the baby. She said that since he was born, he had not cried nor breastfed and only slept. With this information we hurried to do the medical evaluation of baby Baraka, as his mother called him, which in Swahili, the official language of Tanzania, means “Blessing”.  Baraka was alive, sleeping soundly and had a tube in his nose; His limbs were cold but when stimulated, he flexed both arms, but did not wake up.

We later learned that Irene was from a distant region and had recently gone to Nonwe, a village in Ushetu, to seek help from a relative.  The baby had been born with problems and was taken to a public health center, 3 km. from our clinic. There, the mother told us, Baraka had been declared terminally ill and his relatives even asked the doctor to give him medicine so that the baby would die.  After that, the mother escaped from the health center and came to our dispensary.  That explained the nasogastric tube and the multiple punctures Baraka had in his little arms due to attempts to find a vein.

We made a phone call to Peru; it was 3AM in Lima.  Our friend Cecilia, a neonatologist, answered the call, despite the early hour.  Her medical opinion and suggestions allowed us to conclude that Baraka had an encephalopathy due to possible neonatal asphyxia, severe damage to his brain.  His prognosis was guarded.  Cecilia suggested palliative treatment, maintaining his temperature and oxygen; milk supply and maternal affection were very important.  We placed Baraka in an incubator at 36.5 C, where he received 55 ml of breast milk through the tube every three hours. We called Father Martin, chaplain of the dispensary, to administrator the sacraments to save the baby’s soul.  We put a medal of Our Lady on him and entrusted him to Her and to St. Joseph, as we were in the 33 days of preparation to consecrate ourselves to Our Patron Saint.  His new name was John, since he arrived at the dispensary on the feast of St. John of God. 

Through the sacrament of baptism, John was made a new creature, a child of God, a little angel who showed us in his suffering the presence of Christ on the Cross, and in his vulnerable condition granted us the grace to serve him with our prayers and our medical treatment. “Kwa kuwa ni mimi mwenyewe”. “It is I myself” (Lk 24:39).

We later learned that the mother was also sick: she had an infection, which is common without proper hygiene in in-home births. She also received treatment. These situations are common in rural areas like Ushetu, which explains why Tanzania has the 4th highest maternal mortality rate in Africa (PAHO 2014).

We were thinking of taking the baby to a hospital in Mwanza, 200 km away, but it was an eight-hour trip in a private vehicle, with oxygen and without the proper conditions for a critical patient, so John’s delicate state of health made us give up on the idea. We tried to offer him everything we could at the dispensary.

God granted us John’s presence for a day and a half.  His respiratory and neurological function deteriorated progressively and at midnight on March 10 he stopped breathing.  At the time of the doctor’s rounds, his little body was still warm, but no heartbeat could be heard. His mother, who was sleeping in a bed next to the incubator, as if sensing the fact, woke up and remained silent with an anxious look on her face, waiting for information.  Communicating to a mother such painful news as the death of a child is not easy.  Knowing that, by God’s mercy, John would go to heaven, would see God, would no longer suffer and would intercede for us from there brought Irene peace.  She kept looking at her son’s little body as if saying goodbye. Of the three children Irene had, John was the second to die. She was repeating for the second time the pain of mourning the death of a child.

Around noon, John was buried in the parish cemetery, which is next to the dispensary. No one from Irene’s family came to visit her nor came to the burial.  John received a Christian burial.  The catechist of the parish, Angelo, prayed the Responsory and the workers of the dispensary and the people of good will who helped us dig the grave accompanied her in the burial. 

As Irene’s health improved, she was discharged from the hospital.  Before leaving, she thanked everyone for all that had been done for her and her baby; we promised her our prayers and asked her to persevere in her faith.

It is a source of joy for us religious to be witnesses of God’s infinite mercy towards his creatures.  John died, and naturally that causes sadness, but by faith we have the hope that he is in Heaven, seeing God face to face together with the angels and saints, in a condition of indescribable happiness that has no end.  All men have been created for that purpose, to go to heaven.  It is also that same Divine Mercy that calls us as medical sisters to see Christ in every sick person and in turn to show them Christ’s face as we serve them in their infirmities.

We ask you all to pray that, with God’s grace and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, we may be holy witnesses of Christ in this apostolate in African lands, that we may bear witness to the infinite love that God has for each one of His children.


In Christ and Mary,

Sisters of the Dispensary “St. Bernard”.

Ushetu, Tanzania – Africa

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