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Jocy

a modern-day miracle

Story by CURE International January 29th, 2018
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Jocy and her family live in the Philippines. While it might seem like you’d have little in common with someone who lives on the other side of the world, perhaps your family has experienced the same thing Jocy’s family has. Perhaps you also know the exact date when everything in your life changed in an instant, when your former normal was unceremoniously exchanged for a new normal.

For Jocy’s family, it was October 29th, 2012.

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On that day, Jocy’s mom Judith was cooking, the same as she did every day. But on this day, she ran out of water and needed to go to the well for more. Jocy was one year and seven months old and her sister, Kajiah, was three years old. Her oldest sister, Cindygirl, was not at home.

Judith went to the well and left Kajiah and Jocy inside the house with the door closed.

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Small brooms made of natural fibers are common in the Philippines. Jocy’s family had one for cleaning the house. Kajiah, being a curious three year old, innocently lit the broom on fire.

“When I saw that the house was smoking, I dropped the gallon of water and ran. Everyone was saying that I was very pale. When I got to the house the fire was already all over the place. I went up to the window and I took them out. I just grabbed them from the window.”
Judith, Jocy’s mother
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They lost everything in the fire, their home and all of their possessions, but the girls survived. Kajiah escaped with very minor burns. Jocy wasn’t as fortunate. Judith says she didn’t realize how bad it was until they got to the emergency room and doctors kept removing layers and layers of burned skin. They stayed in the hospital for two weeks. After that, they were sent home with a prescription.

Slowly, at first almost imperceptibly, Jocy’s arms began to contract. They inched closer and closer to her body until, six months later, her forearms and fingers were fused to her upper arms like little wings.

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Dr. Tim Mead, Senior Orthopedic Consultant and then-Medical Director of CURE Philippines, has seen many, many burn contractures in his nearly 20-year history with CURE:

“People live in these small homes made mainly out of wood, bamboo, things like that, and there’s always an open fire. So a child just grabs a piece of stick, playing around, and the whole house can come down. In a lot of CURE hospitals we see children whose extremities—arms, legs, face, neck—have been allowed to heal on their own. So what the children do is often go into a very protective position, almost like a fetal position. Their chin will be dropped down, their arms may come up, their knees may flex up, and the wounds won’t get treated.
“Jocy had a lot of burns along the flexor surfaces of her arms, and those are the most at-risk of them. She needed early skin-grafting and didn’t receive it, and she got to the point where they really didn’t have a choice. There was no one around to take care of her, especially without charging a huge fee to do so.”
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That was exactly their experience, as Judith describes.

“We went to a local hospital here in Davao, but no doctors really paid attention to us. When we would go there, the doctors wouldn’t know what to do, so they would postpone us and we’d see another specialist. And then they told me that we would be spending a lot, even if we have public insurance.
“I felt really bad. I said, ‘I might as well go crazy,’ because we couldn’t pay for it. We couldn’t spend money for it.”
Jocy's mother, Judith

Jocy’s family, like Nafiou’s family, is very, very poor. Jocy’s father, Joann, sometimes finds work as a motorcycle driver and the family also farms maize fields, but it’s extraordinarily hard to live off of that income, let alone afford extra expenses as overwhelming as surgery.

Jocy, though, being a little girl, didn’t understand that. All she knew was that she needed surgery, and surgery cost money.

“She would say, ‘We have twenty pesos. Why can’t we get my surgery? Let’s go have my surgery so I can go to school.’”
Judith, Jocy’s mother

Twenty Philippine pesos is less than 50 cents.

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Her family didn’t want her to lose hope, so they kept encouraging her that someday, she’d have surgery. Whenever she would get bullied, which was often, Jocy would respond with simple, childlike faith.

“It’s ok. I’m going to have surgery soon.”

While her family was the source of this response, they only said it for Jocy’s sake. They couldn’t imagine a scenario in which surgery was a realistic possibility. So they spent the next three years putting on their most convincing faces, caught in the middle of the lie they had to tell and the truth they wanted to believe.

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They didn’t know it, but Jocy’s family had been telling her the truth all along.

Judith decided to reach out to a charity organization near their home to see if they could do anything to help. Over a year later, she heard back. They told her there was a new hospital in Davao where Jocy could have surgery.

Jocy walked into the Tebow CURE Hospital with fire in her eyes. You can see it in the photos taken an hour after she arrived. There’s some fear mixed in because she’s a five-year-old kid in a brand new place about to undergo major surgery, but you can also see her resolve. It’s not flashy. She’s not worked up about it. She just knows who she is. She has planted herself on a foundation of quiet confidence and refuses to be shaken.

“A lot of kids come in scared and meek and timid. Jocy came in and she wasn't super chatty, she wasn't outgoing, but there was this fierceness to her.
“She came in with that fierceness, that warrior spirit. We want to see all kids get healed, but sometimes you see this kid and you say, ‘I want to see this healing happen because I know there is just so much more they can do.’ She is definitely one of those kids who we were rooting for since day one.”
Marlene Bray, CUREkids Coordinator, CURE Philippines
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Jocy’s first surgery was intense, and so was the recovery process that followed. She needed additional surgeries and many follow-up appointments to ensure proper healing. Through it all, she remained unabashedly herself.

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Photo by Marlene Bray
Photo by Marlene Bray
“Her history has been, right off the top, she would come into the exam room and start to cry and cry and cry. This is the only time we have seen her vulnerable. She would get it out of her system and then, out of nowhere, would be like, ‘Let's do this.’ And they are changing bandages and we cringe watching this all go on and she just sat there, found her happy place, and didn’t make a sound.”
Marlene Bray, CUREkids Coordinator, CURE Philippines
Photo by Marlene Bray

Dr. Jun, Orthopedic Surgeon at the Tebow CURE Hospital, told us the story of what happened the day after one of Jocy’s follow-up surgeries:

“The next day when I was coming to the hospital I saw her outside. She was sitting on a chair. I said, ‘Jocy, what are you doing here?’ The mother grinned and said, ‘When she woke up, Doctor, she wanted to eat durian.’”
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When she finally had her last appointment, everyone was amazed by her healing. Everyone, of course, except Jocy.

“In that last appointment with Dr. Jun she went in there, did her cry thing, got it all out… and then a few minutes later, Dr. Jun was the one crying. He took off her final banagdes, lifted her arms up all the way, and got a little choked up. We were all getting a little choked up. He was like, ‘This is a miracle. This is a miracle.’ And Jocy was just looking at him like, ‘Did you expect otherwise? Of course I’m alright.’”
Marlene Bray, CUREkids Coordinator, CURE Philippines
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Determined, unwavering, unapologetic.

We thought we knew exactly who Jocy was.

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“She was never like this before.”

That was what we heard from all of Jocy’s family members when we went back to the Philippines to see how she was doing.

I kept asking, “Was she ever like this before?” because I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

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Jocy is joyful.

She laughs now. All the time.

She eats durian with both hands.

Jocy runs and giggles and explores and radiates joy.

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“You know how she’s really serious? Before, she didn’t join in everything, but now you can see that she joins in every single thing. She can do everything she wants. She wasn’t like this before because she couldn’t do everything.”
Jean, Jocy’s aunt
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It’s often said that suffering reveals what a person is really made of. The same can be said for healing. Healing reveals the hidden places of joy that have been buried too deeply for too long.

Jocy is so independent that being physically bound meant her spirit was also bound. She’s the kid who wants to do everything herself, and before, she couldn’t. She needed help to do almost everything. It was endlessly frustrating to her that she couldn’t dress herself, bathe herself, or feed herself the way she wanted to.

Surgery repaired Jocy’s arms, but regaining freedom restored her spirit.

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When Jocy was in the hospital, her family told her she could have anything she wanted if she got through her surgeries. She decided she wanted a pink bike with a basket on it. We all worked together to make sure she got her wish.

Learning how to ride that bike was the ultimate expression of Jocy’s character. The childlike joy that was missing before was fully present, but so was her classic determination. Hope Kim, one of our CUREkids Coordinators in the Philippines, was helping her along, guiding her and pushing her from behind while she learned to pedal. It didn’t take long for Jocy to look back and declare, “Just give me little pushes. I can do it.”

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You can see more of Jocy's story, along with other encouraging patient stories, in the movie Modern Day Miracles at cure.org/miracles.

Footnote: Story by Beka Watts. Photography by Bryce Alan Flurie.
Mindanao