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Treating Spinal Injury Patients in Nepal

Saru woke up unable to move her legs; she’d been unconscious for a week.

She had no recollection of her family taking her to the hospital in Lucknow, India, of the doctors saying she would die or of her journey home to western Nepal. As she woke, her family told her what had happened – everything had changed.

A week earlier, Saru had been working in the fields when she was attacked by a bull. She was sent flying as the bull hit her from behind. It was hours later that her husband found her lying unconscious in the field.

Despite the doctors’ diagnosis, Saru’s husband and 14-year-old daughter never gave up hope. They took great care of Saru, taking turns to miss work or school in order to stay with her as she lay on her bed unable to move.

After four months, a field worker from BMS partner, the International Nepal Fellowship’s Surkhet Clinic, heard about their situation.

When a bed became available, Saru was placed in the capable hands of BMS occupational therapist Megan Barker and her team of six.

After 10 months of therapy, Saru is unrecognizable; she is able to sit up, wash and dress herself and move around in the wheelchair the clinic has given her.

Megan’s team fitted out her house so that it is fully accessible, meaning that, though Saru’s injuries are so severe she’ll never walk, she can still have a fulfilled life.

Today, Saru is back at home – grateful for all that Megan and her team have done for her.

Grateful that she is no longer a burden on her family, that her daughter can go back to school and that she may live to one day see her get married. Grateful to be alive.

Around 75 percent of people in Nepal make a living through agriculture; getting attacked by farm animals or falling from a tree and breaking your spine is a daily possibility.

For those to whom it happens, work is over. In fact, it seems that life is over. Their only option is to lie in bed staring at the ceiling. The lucky few may get to listen to the radio. It’s no life.

Surkhet Clinic is the only facility in the whole of Nepal that provides a full rehabilitation service for spinal injury patients.

Without it, Saru would still be lying on her bed in agonizing pain from pressure sores, hopeless. So would hundreds of others.

That’s why Megan’s work is so important. It’s not just providing the freedom to move, but the freedom to live.

“The doctors say to them, ‘This is an incurable problem, go home and wait to die,'” says Megan. “Saru was told that. And it’s a fatalistic society, so in the back of their minds many believe that the gods have willed this upon them because of something they’ve done in this life or a past life.

“You’ve got to convince them that their life isn’t over, to get them to see that there’s hope.”

Megan is currently the only Christian in the team working in spinal rehabilitation at Surkhet Clinic, and her patients see that she is motivated by her love for Jesus.

“When I came back after two weeks away, they all said to me, ‘I’m glad you’re back, now the love’s back,'” says Megan.

Every Wednesday there is a fellowship meeting held on the ward – many patients, including Saru, attend. Few arrive at the clinic as Christians; many more love Jesus when they leave.

Saru’s story speaks of hope and restoration, yet there are hundreds more desperate for the service that Megan and her small team provide.

When Megan arrived in Nepal, she was the only occupational therapist in the country. Today, there are eight – one of whom was enabled to train thanks to a BMS grant. Health provision is moving forward, but slowly. The need is huge.

“We have eight rehabilitation beds, and 55 people on a waiting list. It’s totally inadequate,” says Megan. “There needs to be more of what we’re doing. There needs to be a vision for this across Nepal.”

Sarah Stone is a writer for BMS World Mission. A longer version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Engage, a quarterly magazine published by BMS World Mission, and is used with permission. You can learn more about Megan Barker and her work here.