|Dr Zelan attending to Anderson.|
|Anderson lies in bed a day after one of his feet was operated on. The other foot shows the extent of the condition he suffered from.|
By Jack Zimba
Anderson Mambwe lies in his cozy-looking hospital bed at LewisGale Medical Center in Salem, Virginia, with almost everything to make his stay in the private health facility comfortable. He has his own bathroom, a doctor, a nurse and two assistants to attend to him round the clock.
But none of this was really stopping the pain the 17-year-old from Zambia was experiencing after undergoing a complex six-and-half-hour operation to correct an extreme case of macrodactyly that had caused both his feet to grow to three times his normal size. He was trying to be strong, but his facial expressions and an occasional groan gave him away.
According to Dr Charles Zelen, the surgeon who operated on Anderson, Macrodactyly is a congenital condition which causes abnormal growth in the limbs.
Before he was discovered in Ndola rural by an American charity, OMNI Missions (Orphans Medical Network International), Anderson was going to have both his legs amputated above the knees as local doctors had deemed his condition beyond correction. But OMNI president, Karen ReMine, would not let that happen. She lobbied support for Anderson and brought him to the US in March. He was an emaciated boy hardly able to walk on his feet due to severe pain in his size 16 feet. But it was perhaps his faith in God that helped Anderson to be hopeful in his seeming hopeless condition.
About two weeks before he underwent surgery, Anderson had requested to be baptized at a local Lutheran church, St. John, which Mrs ReMine’s attends.
"Baptism is very important for Christians and being in America, I finally had my opportunity," Anderson said.
He was baptized on 15th April by associate pastor at St. John, who happens to be Zambian, Elijah Mwitanti. Mrs ReMine, who dotes on Anderson like her own child was beaming with joy at the occasion. Anderson also looks very comfortable around her godmother.
This month, Anderson will be back in theatre for surgery on his other foot.
“I want to see him play football one day,” Dr Zelen, who specializes in foot and ankle surgery, said.
Dr Zelen performed a delicate surgery on Anderson which involved removing some bones in his foot, as well as cutting some to proportionate lengths and then screwing them together. He also closed the growth plates to stop further growth of the foot.
If all goes to plan, Anderson will return to Zambia in September with a pair of normal feet and continue pursuing his dream of becoming a lawyer.
But Anderson’s treatment comes at an astounding cost of about $250,000 (about K1.3 million). LewisGale Medical Center will contribute more than $100,000 (K522,000) in charity care.
“The screws cost $8,000,” Dr Zelen, told me, to emphasize the huge cost of the operation.
Anderson’s huge medical bill, however, raises questions about America’s highly debated, if not controversial, health care system.
Although America is the highest spender on health in the world – it spent $2.7 trillion on healthcare in 2011 - it also has the most expensive health care with about 50 million of its citizens unable to afford health insurance, according to the USA Census Bureau report of 2010.
And despite the huge spending, America still falls behind other developed and some developing nations on health tallies.
It has a lesser life expectancy rate than Puerto Rico and a higher infant mortality than Cuba.
So what really accounts for America’s huge health budget?
One expert attributed the high cost to student loans. Professor Kerry Redican from the Department of Population and Health Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute gave an example of one doctor he came across who had graduated with a $400,000 debt incurred through student loans to finance his college education.
And William Jacobsen, vice-president of Carillion Franklin Memorial, a not-for-profit hospital in Roanoke, said the American health system was too regulated, which added to the cost of running. He said his hospital had to be subjected to 13 inspections from different agencies annually.
But it is more complex than that and some critics have called the US health care system a gigantic money-spinning scam with the insurance companies as beneficiaries.
According to a report by Health Care for America Now, America's five biggest for-profit health insurance companies ended 2009 with a combined profit of $12.2 billion.
Medical bills are also a major factor in more than 60 per cent of the personal bankruptcies in the US today, according to a report published in The American Journal of Medicine.
Yet, according to projections by the Medicare's Office of the Actuary’s report of 2011, the US spending on healthcare is set to hit $4.6 trillion or $13,710 per every person in 2020. Currently the US spends about $8,000 per every person on health.
“Health care spending keeps growing faster than the economy because of high cost of medical innovations and an aging society that consumes increasing levels of service,” the report says.
It is said that the baby-boomers are now putting a strain on America’s health system as their demand for healthcare increases with age. Baby-boomers refers to a generation born after World War II when the US experienced a sudden proliferation of child births.
President Obama’s healthcare plan is summarized thus: “It will provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance. It will provide insurance to those who don’t. And it will lower the cost of health care for our families, our businesses, and our government.”
But some critics argue that while the Obama plan will give more people access to health insurance, it will not reduce the cost.
They give such a depressing and hopeless outlook of the system and suggest dismantling, rather than overhauling of the system.
So while the American health system may give a young boy from Zambia hope to run on his feet again, many of its citizens are being crippled under its burden and as the campaign for the US presidential election gains momentum, health care will sure dominate the debates.
This story was published in 2012