It started as a tiny scratch…
…and then took 5 agonizing days to get Alison from her remote island to a hospital in Australia.
Doctors told her that she was within hours of losing her leg to a flesh-eating bacteria.
Living on a small, remote island of Vanuatu requires us to rely heavily on boat travel for all areas of life. There are no roads between islands. Actually, there are no roads on our part of the island at all. We rely on our supplies being sent to us via local cargo boats. Living in such a remote area also means that most cargo boats do not travel past our part of the Island on a regular basis which means we go for months without supplies. And more often than not, our cargo is lost en route. This is to say the least, very stressful. Reliable boats cannot be found, and so to have a craft that can travel to families here in the islands to deliver food, gas, building materials and other supplies is a critical need and could even save lives in the event of a medical emergency.
Living in the Islands of Vanuatu has certainly been an exciting, rewarding and sometimes an adventure that requires us to grip tightly to our Lord. My husband, Rowan, and I moved to Vanuatu with our three children about 2 years ago to be Bible Translation Facilitators.
We live on the second largest island in Vanuatu called Malekula. Our village, Malfaxal, is very remote and requires us to first fly in a small plane to the Island and then travel by a small fibreglass boat for 2-3 hours. It is always an adventurous and somewhat harrowing trip. Our first time out to the village as a family, after building a small house, was cut short from what turned out to be a life threatening emergency. Phone reception in our village at the time was very limited and required us to climb a steep hill behind the school. Even then it was unreliable. We had no internet and no other way to contact the outside world. I first noticed what looked like a large boil on my thigh on our second day out there. We kept a close eye on it, however in another two days I had high fevers and it had already caused extensive swelling in my thigh that was excruciatingly painful. We tried finding a local medical worker, but the best they could do was find us some antibiotics that may/may not be the right thing. We called a doctor in Port Vila (the capital of Vanuatu) who did not know what to do as she could not see it and make a diagnosis.
At this stage we were pretty sure we needed some medical assistance, however our phone reception was cut off and for the next couple of days we were unable to call out or receive calls due to a bad weather system. My infection went from bad to worse very quickly over these two days. We finally got phone reception and contacted our Director to organise immediate flights for us to come back to Port Vila. We prepared to go in a boat to our closest airfield. I was unable to be assisted by walking so I was taken in a wheelbarrow to the boat! The Boat travelled to Lamap where we had a 4WD truck transport us to the airfield. Our Director was trying to arrange flights however there were no seats available, so we then arranged to get a flight from Norsup, an airport a few hours travel away at the top of the island. So we chartered a local truck to go to Norsup on a rough road known as the ‘Bone Cruncher’ by the locals.
After 1.15 hours of driving on extremely rough track, we came to a rushing river that was impassable. We had to turn around and go all the way back! After another few hours we finally chartered another boat from the bottom of our island to the top. Then, after another 4WD truck ride, we reached a town where we organised to stay the night in local accommodation. We were all dehydrated and I was in so much pain from the infection and from the rough and long travel. To get to Port Vila, we had to transit north to Santo before heading back south to the capital. We went to a hospital while we were stopped in Santo, but because it was a public holiday, nearly everything was closed. One Doctor saw me and decided to clean the wound and bandage it for the flight.
After two full days of travel, the second night we finally flew into Port Vila where we saw a Doctor who referred me to another doctor who diagnosed me with a gangrene infection and organised a medical evacuation for me. I then flew out in a jet to Australia where I later underwent multiple operations to clean my leg. I was told that if I did not get the medical attention when I did, 24 hours later I would have either lost my leg or even my life. The Lord had got us out just in timeǃ It was a further six months of operations, physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy before we were then able to return to Vanuatu. Our Lord is forever faithful and carried us through this whole experience.
It is for emergencies such as this one, that we believe it is essential for people who live in the islands to have a team who have a reliable boat to come and assist. We see it as a lifeline to have a boat that is able to visit each of the teams for much needed support, though not only transporting supplies and bringing encouragement, but also for any medical emergencies that may arise.
Alison Miles-Fanning for the Miles-Fanning Family