Florentine and Raso met in the waiting room the day their toddlers were scheduled to see Mercy Ships' orthopedic team. Their children suffer from the same congenital deformity called clubfoot, which causes the feet to twist at the ankle and curve inward. Both children are about 20 months old, but neither has taken a first step.
There is a universal principle of childhood physics that we all remember well: the joy of spinning in circles. Perhaps it was spinning while locking hands with a playmate, in a teacup at Disney World, dancing in pirouettes, or simply turning in place -- it was a thrill to send our surroundings into a kaleidoscopic blur. This was followed by a dizzy fit of giggles until our internal compasses caught up, and the world came back into focus.
Until I met Mariama, ten years after her agonizing delivery, I had never heard of vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). That's because in the United States, stories like hers haven't been told in more than 100 years. Today, VVF keeps company with obsoletes like smallpox and polio in the shadows of Western medicine, where its symptoms are referenced in the past tense. But in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, more than 2 million women still suffer from the condition.