Parasitic disease, specifically, echinococcosis is said to be endemic in Tibet. It's an insidious disease that sometimes just presents as fatigue or progressive loss of weight over years.
While we were visiting a family in their home, this young mother simply manifested in the room... ghost-like.You can see she was gaunt and looked wasted. She had no energy and hardly any expression on her face.
Her belly was rock hard and distended. She had received some help in the past and I was told she had xrays. I didn't know what was wrong, but we would try to help her.
Almost a week later, while travelling on dirt roads, village to village with Lama Ajok, he brought the car to an abrupt stop. This woman appeared again, on the other side of a wire fence, leaned over the fence, and gave Lama Ajok an envelope. It was her xrays. Lama Ajok took pictures of the xrays by holding them up to a sunny window and then forwarded them to me.
Once home in Seattle, I consulted several physician friends who felt that her liver was enlarged and had at least one, if not more large cysts. I thought there was a good chance she had cystic ecchinococcosis of her liver and needed surgery if she was going to survive. Bill Warnock is the head of Lhasa-Boulder Sister City Program and knows a great deal about the disease. I called Bill and asked him if he knew any surgeons who could help us. Bill had worked with a surgeon in Lhasa and knew this same doctor now worked in a military hospital in Aba, at least several days drive from Legon.
I gave the phone contact to Lama Ajok who called the surgeon. The surgeon, a Tibetan who spoke the local Kham dialect, agreed to see the woman. I thought everything was set, but mother would not go. She had no child care for her children and needed to consult the lama to find an auspicious time for the journey.
Perhaps a month or so later, she was able to make the journey. Doctor saw her, but the disease was too advanced. In some instances, the cysts take over a good part of the organ, and nothing much can be done. Perhaps in some cases, a liver transplant is possible, but not here.
Lama Ajok made the journey back to Legon with this young mother. I can imagine the trip home was pretty quiet. I haven't heard how she is doing; I'll make the call to Lama la and ask.