Miracles and medicine

May 20, 2002

MARGRET and Gordon Onziga never gave up.

Not in their hometown of Aru, a tiny village in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not in Arua, where they first took their newborn daughters for medical care. Not in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, down seven hours of bad road, where they were sent next. And not in Baltimore, where their journey ended and their family's future was reborn.

The Onzigas' twin daughters, born last October, were joined at the chest, and their chances of survival, much less of leading normal lives, were slim. But Mr. Onziga sold the family bicycle to get money to take the babies to the best medical facility around -- Mulago Hospital in Kampala.

Doctors there evaluated the twins, but were equipped to do little else. That's when good fortune overtook the Onzigas: Dr. Cindy Howard and Dr. Sherri Shubin, both from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, were at Mulago as part of an exchange program. And so the Onzigas began their longest journey of all.

As detailed in The Sun, the girls and their parents flew to Baltimore and the girls were separated in a 12-hour operation. They are by all accounts thriving now, and the family will return to their village in the fall, after physical therapy and some surgical repair work.

Given all the bad news that routinely streams out of Africa, the Onzigas' story is a particularly welcome one. More than a tale of the miracles of modern medicine reaching even to the least modern of societies, it is the story of dozens and dozens of people who shared their skills and knowledge, donated their services and facilities, navigated government bureaucracies, and gave of themselves. All so that two tiny girls could go back home happy -- and healthy.

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