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A Journey of Hope for Sewwandhi

13-year-old Sewwandhi from Sri Lanka has suffered from scoliosis (abnormal lateral curvature of the spine) since birth. With help from Tzu Chi Sri Lanka and Singapore, the teenager underwent an operation at the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) in Kuala Lumpur.

The UMMC medical team performing operation on Sewwandhi. (Photo provided by UMMC)

"Thank you, doctor, and all of you for helping me. I am truly grateful that I can finally walk normally and go to school like others!"

On 5 Aug 2011, Sewwandhi was overwhelmed with joy because Tzu Chi volunteers held a party for her at the hospital. The medical team who performed the surgery on her was also present at the scene.

Sewwandhi presented a drawing she had drawn to the medical team.

"Wow! Dr Guan, this is you!"
"Ha! Ha! Look at this! The picture she drew really looks like you..."
"This must be xxx!"

Everyone was guessing who is who on the drawings.

Sewwandhi had kept her promise to thank each and everyone who had helped her.

"Why do I look like this?"

Before 8am on 18 Jul 2011, three Tzu Chi volunteers from Kuala Lumpur were at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to welcome their guests.

Finally, Sewwandhi and her mother, Shanthi, and Sri Lankan volunteer, Pathumi, appeared at the arrival gate. Despite being greeted with friendly smiles, the mother and daughter looked nervous.

"Why do I look like this? When can I find a cure?" were two frequent questions posed by Sewwandhi to her mom who could not give her an answer.

Since Sewwandhi was two, Shanthi had been seeking treatment and medical advice everywhere for her daughter. Be it western medicine or traditional therapy, she never missed the chance to try.

"My husband and I were upset when we were told that it was going to cost a huge amount of money to do the operation. No matter how hard we tried to save or borrow, there was no way that we could come up with that amount of money," Shanthi said in tears.

Living with a body disfigurement had seriously hindered Sewwandhi's chance to lead a normal life, but she could only endure.

Sewwandhi's father, Chandrakeeth, is a soldier who lost his left leg during a civil war. His meagre salary could barely sustain a family of four, not to mention the need to find the funds for his daughter's medical treatment.

Sewwandhi loves reading and enjoys schooling. Her ambition is to be a teacher.

"My classmates are nice to me. They always encourage me and are willing to help me!"

Despite the assistance from her classmates, Sewwandhi still found it difficult to cope with the daily trials of living with her disfigurement. Unable to run, jump or exercise, she could only sit and watch her friends play.

Shanthi was heartbroken to see the sadness in her daughter's eyes but she always encouraged and showed her caring for Sewwandhi. "I always tell her that she must accept her loss and find hope in her studies!" She said.

Wish comes true after 13 years

There are, in fact, many people suffering from scoliosis in Sri Lanka. However, there are only a handful of medical professionals who can provide complete treatment for the illness.

Chandrakeeth and Shanthi could only pray for a miracle for their daughter.

"One day, a friend told us that maybe Tzu Chi can help," Shanthi recalled. She then obtained the phone number from the friend and made the contact.

Not long after, on 20 Dec 2010, a few Sri Lankan volunteers went to visit Sewwandhi and her family at their house. They then met Mr David Liu, the CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore who also superintends Tzu Chi's missions in Sri Lanka.

"When Mr David saw my daughter, he told us not to worry. He said that my daughter's illness can be treated in Malaysia and he was going to arrange it for us, with Tzu Chi bearing the fees," Shanthi smiled when recalling the day she met Mr David Liu.

The conversation at Shanthi's house made everyone excited. Shanthi was touched when she heard that Tzu Chi could lend a helping hand at such short notice, adding that she has never seen any organization as effective as Tzu Chi.

Sewwandhi was then regarded as a care recipient of Tzu Chi. Since then, volunteers paid frequent visits to the family with whom they also shared the activities carried out by Tzu Chi in Sri Lanka. When Tzu Chi Sri Lanka Chapter organized its 2010 Year End Blessing Ceremony in January this year, Sewwandhi and her family were all invited to attend.

The family also got to know more and more about Tzu Chi. Sewwandhi knew that she would have to endure suffering throughout the process of her treatment, but she still wanted to give it a try.

A journey to recovery

Dr Guan Wen Qiang, an Associate Professor of UMMC-cum-Orthopaedic (Spinal) Consultant, teamed up with Dr Su Lin Ming and six other medical professionals to handle Sewwandhi's case.

According to Dr Guan, the corrective surgery is to prevent the progressive deterioration of her scoliosis and compression of the surrounding organs as well as her overall appearance.

The medical team gave a thorough explanation of the surgery to the family; and Tzu Chi volunteers were also on hand to give their full mental support to increase the family's confidence. "I must trust the doctors here…" said Shanthi, who could not do anything except have her faith in them.

Sewwandhi's operation was performed on 21 July. While the medical team was fixing screws and rods onto Sewwandhi's spine, Shanthi was praying outside the operating theatre. It took the team eight hours to perform the operation.

After the operation, Sewwandhi's look improved and she could finally walk normally. Shanthi was thrilled to see the difference after the surgery despite the doctor's request to have Sewwandhi put on a support for three months.

Sewwandhi's gratitude

"I must do well in my studies, and I want to help others just like Tzu Chi helps others," Sewwandhi whispered to the volunteers. She was grateful for all that Tzu Chi had done for her. For Shanthi, to find improvement in her beloved daughter's condition was a turning point for her.

During Sewwandhi's recovery period, Tzu Chi volunteers took turns to visit her and her mother at the UMMC hostel they stayed in.

Knowing that Sewwandhi likes to read, volunteer Yang Mei Qing brought her a few books from home and some volunteers also decided to give her a surprise party on the day her stitches were removed.

The volunteers prepared refreshments like curry, fried items, cakes and coffee for the party. "We just prepare anything we think a child would like," Yang said while pointing to the cake and dishes she made at home.

"I must thank Master Cheng Yen for all these," said Shanthi. "My daughter would not have been here without her. I wish her longevity and good health!"

The medical team and Tzu Chi volunteers then happily sang the ‘Happy Birthday" song to Sewwandhi.

"I will miss Malaysia. The doctors and volunteers are very nice to me!" exclaimed the teenager.

Before the doctors and nurses walked out of the room, Sewwandhi ran forward and gave each of them a hug. Dr Guan kept reminding Shanthi on how to take care of Sewwandhi after the operation.

We wish Sewwandhi all the very best and may she be happy and well always.

Sewwandhi (2nd right), Shanthi (1st left) and Sri Lankan volunteer, Pathumi (2nd left), were met by Malaysian volunteer at the airport. (Photo by Cheong Huey Chiat)

An X-ray picture of Sewwandhi's spinal condition before operation. (Photo provided by UMMC)

A party was organized by Tzu Chi volunteers at the hospital to celebrate Sewwandhi's recovery. (Photo by Gan Chian Nee)

The doctors autographing the "Thank You" card drawn by Sewwandhi. (Photo by Gan Chian Nee)

Knowing that she likes to read, volunteer Yang Mei Qing brought story books from home for Sewwandhi. (Photo by Gan Chian Nee)

At the airport, an album containing pictures taken during their stay in Kuala Lumpur was given to Sewwandhi and Shanthi before their departure. (Photo by Cheong Huey Chiat)

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