Rare illness strikes MN missionary family

Rare illness strikes Minnesota missionary family

LAKEVILLE, Minn. - Despite living in Africa, far away from modern hospitals, Dr. Stephen Swanson's kids say they generally don't worry when they get sick.

“My dad and my mom – they're both doctors and nurses, so they can really figure out what's going on and help us get better,” said Caedmon Swanson, 13.

Dr. Swanson spent 7 years at the U of M and HCMC,where he was director of in-patient pediatrics. Then, two years ago, the family moved to Tanzania as missionaries. He treats children. But with so few medical resources, he can't save them all.

“In my first year there, I watched well over 100 children pass away under my clinical watch,” Swanson said.

Then, two months ago, the life of Dr. Swanson's own daughter became threatened. Indya, 10, developed an ear infection that was rapidly spreading.

“She didn't have any energy. And she normally has a lot of energy,” said her sister Hannah, 16.

Symptoms started with headaches and led to paralysis on one side of her face. It was a rare intracranial infection, and Dr. Swanson knew he alone couldn't save her.

“There was absolutely no way you could treat this without surgery. And the surgical options in Tanzania are zero,” Swanson said.

So they flew Indya to hospitals in Kenya, then South Africa, before finally Pittsburgh, Penn., for a specialized lifesaving surgery, which doctors successfully performed Friday.

It was a frightening experience that Dr. Swanson says gives him even more perspective.

“She's going to live through this, but if this had happened to any other child in the country we were living in, they probably would not have survived,” Swanson said.

Indya is already out of the hospital and getting therapy in Pittsburgh. Dr. Swanson and the two older kids are flying back to Tanzania on Thursday. Indya and her mom will rejoin them in two weeks.

Dr. Swanson said the rare infection Indya suffered was not caused by the fact they now live in Africa. He said it could have happened in Minnesota, although he believes she would have been diagnosed and treated much quicker here.

 


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