Northshire women come together for a child

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MANCHESTER — It's often said that "it takes a village" to care for a child.

For 3-year-old Tinken Kutata — recently diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia in her home country of Kenya — three women, with a community behind them, have paved the way for a healthy and happy future for her.

One of those women is Tinken's mother, Caroline Senteu, who visited the Northshire last summer to reconnect with her friend Sarah Hadden, and to speak at the United Church of Dorset and East Rupert on the importance of educating girls.

While there, Senteu was introduced to local orthopedic surgeon Deb Henley.

"We met and just totally bonded," Henley described. "I really think that I was supposed to meet Caroline; it wasn't random."

Little did she know, that serendipitous connection would prove crucial in the coming months.

After returning to Kenya, Senteu resumed a normal life, working her way through medical school. Still, she was increasingly disconcerted about the limp that her daughter had begun to display at around 9 months of age.

"She had been a really healthy baby, and everyone was telling me that it would resolve," explained Senteu, who received a number of diagnoses for her daughter, to no avail. "Finally, we took an X-ray, and she was diagnosed with bilateral hip dysplasia. The head of both of her femurs are not in their sockets, and on one side, the socket is almost gone because the bone has not been there since birth."

Though she was relieved to finally have a diagnosis after months of doctors appointments and hospital visits, Senteu was anxious. Surgeries like the one Tinken required were expensive in Kenya, she said, and Senteu worried that her daughter might wake up in worse health than before the procedure.

"I was so worried," Senteu confessed. "She is my everything, my only child."

That worry was tinged with anger, for with conditions like hip dysplasia, time is of the essence. The months of misdiagnoses had taken their toll, and by the time doctors knew what was wrong with Tinken, the chances of correcting the problem without surgery had dissipated.

Though doctors were pushing Senteu to bring her daughter in for the surgery that same weekend, she worried about the cost and quality of the surgery after the long road it had taken to reach a diagnosis. In her worry, the mother did what many of us do in times of trouble: She called a friend.

"It was a very hard time for us as a family, and for my child also," Senteu said. "We kept taking her to the hospital, so she knew that there was a problem. Then this miracle started to happen."

When Hadden learned of the surgery that Tinken would need, and of Senteu's concerns, she sprang to action. The Manchester resident quickly called Henley, whose memory of Senteu had remained vivid.

"After we met at the Dorset Church, we had this really cool connection, and around December, Sarah told me that Caroline's daughter had been diagnosed with hip dysplasia," Henley said. "Unfortunately, I don't do the surgery that she needed — no one in my group does, it's very specialized — but I began emailing people that I haven't spoken to in probably 15 or 20 years. That's the beautiful thing about our profession: our fraternity."

"Deb was so into this thing, and she told me that she was going to make sure that we could bring Tinken here," Senteu said. "At first it was not easy for me to believe; I didn't know how we were ever going to afford to come here for the surgery."

After reaching out to colleagues from her decades in the medical profession, Henley eventually connected with Shriners Hospital for Children in Springfield, Mass. After dozens of calls and emails back and forth, the hospital had finally accepted Tinken for free care.

"One of my colleagues at the Vermont Orthopedic Center mentioned Shriners, because if we have complex pediatric orthopedic cases they're happy to see our patients," Henley explained. "Shriners is fantastic — it's like Disney World there."

Arranging the surgery was a long and convoluted process, and one step remained before Senteu and her daughter could schedule their initial consultation: airfare.

"I had not imagined that it would be possible for me to bring her here, because hospitals here are expensive; airfare is expensive," Senteu said. "That's when Sarah and her friends here in Vermont set up their GoFundMe page."

"I was really hoping that the community could come together for this," Hadden said. "We asked for $3,900 to pay for airfare, and within one week we had over $5,000. This community did that."

In early June, Senteu and her daughter flew across the Atlantic for an initial consultation at Shriners Hospital. With all of the i's dotted and the t's crossed, it's now a waiting game until the two return in November for Tinken's surgeries.

As each hip needs to be operated on individually, and have ample time to recover, Senteu and her daughter plan to spend between 3 and 4 months in the Northshire this winter. In the meantime, the mother has one hope: that her daughter will one day be able to walk normally.

"I think that all of this goes back to the education I was given, to make the lives of my children better than my own," Senteu said. "I just want to thank everyone in this town who contributed money and brought us here, and especially Dr. Deb and Sarah Hadden. It's like they're giving my daughter the ability to walk."

Cherise Madigan is a Journal correspondent.

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