Written by Fr. John Boles.
“Hope springs eternal” goes the phrase, even in the saddest of situations, and surely none can be sadder than the case of young Andrea Alvarez.
Andrea lives in a poor district in a former Columban parish on the north side of Lima, the capital of Peru. At eighteen she suffers from so many illnesses that she could probably fill the pages of a medical journal all on her own. She has cerebral palsy, curvature of the spine, partial blindness, deformation of the lungs, convulsions and, most notable of all, hidrocephalis. This is the disease that enlarges the head in relation to the body, a condition made famous in the 1980’s film where John Hurt plays the eponymous “Elephant Man”.
Andrea shares a one-room ground-floor flat with her mother Jacqui, her grandma Juana and her younger sister Noelia. She came to our notice when Noelia joined our First Communion programme.
The family subsists on handouts from some of Andrea’s uncles who are taxi drivers. A nearby hospital provides her with free basic medicines, but little else.
Fortunately, through the generosity of Columban benefactors, and the voluntary assistance of local parishioners and physiotherapists from the Columban-run special needs school in Lima, we’ve made great strides towards improving Andrea’s quality of life.
Each month we are keeping her supplied with powdered milk (she can’t take solid food) and adult nappies. The physiotherapists have equipped the family with specialised cushions and pillows, and have taught Jacqui and Juana how to position them so as to give Andrea maximum support throughout the day and night. Best of all, we’ve bought an orthopaedic bed and mattress, making her immeasurably more comfy than before.
None of this will result in a miracle cure for Andrea. Doctors reckon that, given the lengthy case history, her life-span will be limited. However, “giving life” is not just about miracle cures. As Mother Teresa taught us, it is also about giving the terminally sick a dignified existence until God calls them.
Thanks to Columban friends at home and abroad, that is the miracle of life that we’ve been able to extend to young Andrea.
Interested in donating to support Andrea and her family? Please visit our donate page.