Caring for Elina

19.01.2017- Elina had been burned – literally held in open flames – in retaliation over a family dispute. She would never be the same. But on the Africa Mercy, she found Healing, hope and love!



Six-year old Elina and her mother were coaxed out of the bushes. They had been waiting, undetected, for the crowds to thin at a medical screening center in Madagascar. After a Mercy Ships nurse named Ria invited Elina to come out of hiding, she discovered the disfiguring burns that covered a significant part of the child’s body – fusing her right arm, neck and cheek together into a painfully restrictive stance.

Ria asked Elina’s mother what had happened to her daughter. A translator tried her best to share the message but simply couldn’t because she was overcome with emotion. A second translator took over the exchange. She, too, was overcome with emotion but managed to deliver the tragic truth: Elina had been burned – literally held in open flames – in retaliation over a family dispute. Although the person responsible had been caught, the damage was done … sadly, Elina would never be the same. She had spent the months in extreme pain as her body tried to heal itself. But, with no access to emergency treatment, severe burn contractures had formed, and serious infection was setting in.

Her burns required significant wound care and dressing changes in order to heal properly before any surgical procedures could be considered to release the contractures caused by the scars. Multiple surgeries were needed, including skin grafts, as well as ample time and physical therapy for full recovery.

Regular visits to the ship’s outpatient treatment center allowed Elina to receive proper wound care. At first, she fought back as nurses tried to gently remove the painful bandages and clean the wounds. After a few months, Elina had healed enough to be admitted to the ship’s hospital. Through a series of complex surgeries, the volunteer surgeons successfully released the contractures and performed skin grafts, providing a better chance for Elina to eventually move her arm, neck and head more normally.

The recovery period took months, but it was a special time. Elina grew stronger every day. Her range of motion continued to improve as she reached her arms higher and higher above her head, through playful and creative exercises designed by the nurturing therapists.

Ria extended her love for Elina to the rest of the girl’s family. She traveled to their home to check in, quickly learning the Malagasy language so she could have meaningful conversations. It was as though she was Elina’s “loving Aunty,” accepted into the family because of her shared love for the little girl, which went beyond words.

Unexpected bonds formed between Elina and many Mercy Ships volunteers. By the time she left the ship to go home, she was bright and shining. Sometimes it takes a village, other times a ship, to raise a child like Elina out of despair. Her scars will remain, but hopefully they will remind her less of the pain and more of the people who grew to love her.