May 21, 2024

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Emma’s Journey: Overcoming Extrapulmonary TB in Sierra Leone with PIH Support

Emma was a happy, healthy 13-year-old in Sierra Leone when the headaches started. Those were soon joined by fevers, and then seizures—up to three a day. 

Her mother, Rebecca, went with her to PIH-supported Koidu Government Hospital (KGH) where she received tests for everything from HIV to tuberculosis (TB), but the results came back normal.  

Still, they didn’t give up—even after Emma fell into a coma, Rebecca made a five-hour journey with PIH staff to get a CT scan for Emma, and they finally discovered four masses of bacteria on Emma’s brain: extrapulmonary TB. 

Emma isn’t the first patient with TB to seek diagnostics and treatment with PIH-supported facilities—in 2022 alone, 3,000 TB patients completed their full course of treatment with PIH, showing that with access to effective treatment and support, TB can be cured, no matter where you are. 

Extrapulmonary TB is a form of TB in which the bacterium causing TB travels outside the lungs and lodges itself in another part of the body—in this case, Emma’s brain—making it undetectable on chest X-rays.  

Kadie (from left), Rebecca, and Emma smile as the twin sisters are reunited after Emma’s long battle with TB meningitis.

Rebecca was devastated. Not only was her daughter ill with an unfamiliar sickness, but her family was only making 7,000 Leones a day, the equivalent of 70 U.S. cents, since Rebecca had put her business on hold to care for Emma. 

PIH walked alongside the family every step of the way. Emma’s treatment, her anti-TB drugs, and broad-spectrum antibiotics were covered, as was the cost of Rebecca’s meals as she sat by her daughter’s side, hoping she’d wake up. 

Then, after three months of treatment, Emma opened her eyes. The brain masses had disappeared.  

With two months of rehabilitative support in the hospital, Emma regained her ability to sit up, then to stand, and finally to walk. 

Since her discharge, Emma has been transitioning back into her daily life—doing chores, returning to school, and catching up with her twin sister. And, she has a new goal: She wants to become a nurse, like those at KGH who helped save her life. 

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