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Basanti: The Chance To Walk

April 12, 2011 - India

by Jaimie Shaff and Naiara Tejados

Oh, our little girl. We have a serious hunch that one day she will, in fact, be queen of the world. Today, she is just a three year old wondering why these strange people have showed up and keep making her go to the hospital to undergo painful procedures and wear uncomfortable braces.

Some of you have already seen this little girl floating around the interweb, and some of you have contributed to our efforts in making her life a little bit easier. This is Basanti.

photo: Basanti’s beautiful smile on the way to Ahmedabad

Basanti first came into our lives during Diwali 2010. She presented with anemia and full body pitting edema, a sign of Severe Acute Malnutrition, and required a painful emergency blood transfusion through her shinbone. Her body was so swollen that my fingerprints were left in her arm while I held her hand during the procedure. With little to no resources out here, all of this was done sans anesthetic, and her eyes showed us that she felt every poke, and every prod. Yet, with the help of our fabulous Doctor Sachin, Basanti came through the ordeal and recovered from her bout of SAM.

photo: Basanti after one month of NRC treatment, her edema gone but her wasted limbs apparent

As I’ve said before, the first sign of recovery from SAM is a smile. All we wanted was to see this little girl smile. Yet, after over a month at the NRC, she refused to budge. This little girl was filled with determination and willpower unmatched by any of our efforts.

Basanti came back for follow-up 15 January 2011. This was the first time I ever saw her beautiful toothy smile. Basanti was recovering marvelously, and her bloated belly had finally gone down. She was getting a bit of baby-fat back, and her activity level was high. After giving me the stare down, she glanced down at her clubfoot, looked back up at me, and smiled. This time, her eyes asked for help.

photo: Basanti’s club foot and stubborn gaze

I got to work immediately, researching the various procedures and organizations contributing to children with a clubfoot. I also sent out a blast to my family and friends, via Facebook Causes, to ask for some much needed financial assistance. If we were going to help this little girl out, we were going to need some resources. To my astonishment, Basanti’s donation cause was fulfilled in just 3 days.

I found an organization called A Leg to Stand On (ALTSO) with a branch out of a government hospital in Ahmedabad. The organization got in touch with me immediately, and we planned the date for Basanti’s procedure. Because of her age, the less-invasive procedure was not an option, and she would require two operations and over a year of casting and braces. X-rays also showed a significant curvature in her spine.

As our CNE, Sumitra, explained the process to the father we saw the confusion set into his brow. Access to medical services is very low in our areas of operation, and complicated surgical procedures are not very common.  Concepts such as anesthesia, casting, realignment, recovery, and physical therapy are difficult to grasp at first, and require complex explanations. Fortunately, with the help of Sumitra, the doctors, ALTSO, and our Gujarat-based volunteer Roma, we were able to help the father to understand the process and he agreed to continue with the process.

photo: Basanti at her home with her sister at the first operation

Stepping back a few hours to our first major “lightbulb.” Basanti’s father provides the economic support for the family, and is very seldom around for the caretaker tasks for his children. At a daba on the way to the hospital, we realized that he didn’t know how to feed her! Naiara quickly swapped places with him at the table, mixed some daal and rice, and showed him how to feed her. After she inhaled her food, we saw her first smile of the 8-hour trip, and realized that we had some work to do. At the hospital, the families in surrounding beds offered to teach the father how to feed and clean her during their stay at the hospital. Every time we checked in on her, he had learned a bit more, and actually thanked us for allowing him to spend time with his daughter.

To date, Basanti has had her first operation and is in her second cast (well third, the second fell apart due to the natural conditions of the village…the most recent cast has been reinforced with some wire and duct-tape. Innovation!). She is due for her second operation in June, and has been fitted for a brace for her scoliosis. She has a long road ahead of her, but thanks to the help and support of ALTSO, our team, and you, she will have the chance to walk.

photo: Basanti’s first cast after only 2 weeks at home!

photo: Jaimie reinforcing Basanti’s second cast with thin wire and ductape to kid/village proof the fragile plaster

One of the most powerful moments was when we went to check on Basanti at her home following her first operation. Her mother looked at me, and said “Jaimie, first you saved her life during Diwali…now you’re helping her walk like the rest of my daughters. Thank you.” I told her that there are lots of people all over the world, helping to make her daughter’s life easier. That’s you.

Without your support, this would not have been possible. Women with disabilities are marginalized in this society. In rural India, disabled women have little chance of rising up in society, and have difficulty performing basic household functions. They are poked fun of at school, increasing chances of dropping-out, and typically end up marrying poorly, thereby putting them at risk for abuse. There is little support for women in rural areas, particularly those who are already ostracized from society for an easily corrected birth defect.

Thank you for changing this little girl’s life, forever.

photo: Jaimie and Naiara signing Basanti’s cast

We can use any help you are able to provide on this project to continue our Education, Treatment and Outreach in the Madhya Pradesh region of India.

To contribute to this initiative, visit our website at

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