Lucia – Peru

The name of the child in this story has been changed to protect confidentiality.

Four-year-old Lucia lives in northern Lima, Peru with her parents, older sisters, and older cousins. Her grandmother and aunt used to live there, as well, but they both died of tuberculosis (TB) several years ago. A third cousin also living with them was diagnosed with TB, but dropped out of his treatment early to work in Italy to send money back to the family.

In 2010, when Lucia turned four, her 18-year-old cousin was diagnosed with pulmonary TB. He completed the standard six months of treatment for TB, but shortly after began to cough up blood. He was transferred to a hospital in Lima for re-evaluation. There, doctors confirmed that he had multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), and started treatment with second-line drugs. A few months later, through the evaluation of her contacts, doctors suspected that Lucia might have TB, and decided to initiate MDR-TB treatment.

While Lucia was lucky to receive a prompt diagnosis, her treatment has been extremely difficult. She withdrew from school, as she was attending so irregularly due to headaches or fatigue. Lucia is tormented disturbed by loud noises and talks with imaginary friends. It took her months to tolerate her injections without crying. But Lucia is brave. Her mother recalls, “One day when they applied the injection, Lucia cried a lot and I started to cry with her. Seeing me cry, my daughter told me, ‘Mommy do not cry, I am strong … look I’m not crying.’”

The whole family also suffers from Lucia’s illness, including the accompanying stigma. Lucia used to chat to the neighbors, “Hello, hello I’m going to the clinic to take my meds!” Lucia’s sister reports, “We had to tell her not to say that, because some neighbors want us to move. Lucia’s mother wishes she had more support about how to care for Lucia at home and ease her discomfort, or even just someone to listen to her. Lucia’s mother has also been delaying surgery for a medical problem of her own: though she has intense abdominal pain, she “acts strong so as not to worry the family.” Her priority now is to provide for her family, give them all the love that is possible, and above all, help cure Lucia.

Story Collected by: Carolina Morán, Carmen Contreras and Leonid Lecca (Partners In Health)