The Bishop and Northrup Families Open Their Hearts and Homes

The Sylvanians You Need to Know
–by Mary Helen Darah



Leandra Medine once wrote, “Don’t try to be something for everyone, just be everything to someone.” Sylvanians, Amy Northrup, Gail Bishop and their families, have opened up their homes and their hearts to be everything for two young boys in need. Her friend Kathleen Mierzwiak asked Gail if she would be willing to care for a 7-year-old boy with brittle bone disease in need of orthopedic surgery. The Mierzwiak family, also of Sylvania, recently adopted Achiga from Haiti after caring for him through numerous and extensive medical procedures. Gail agreed and their journey with Nabon from the Ivory Coast began. The Bishops would regularly take Nabon to their church and would see Amy and Reeves Northrup. Amy’s interest peeked and told Gail if another child needed care that she may be interested. Reeves, on the other hand, was concerned that they would get too attached to a child. The combination of Amy’s determination and the big heart housed in Reeves, eventually brought Yvan, Burkina Faso in Africa, into their lives. “He had severe club feet,” explained Amy. “It is the culture of his village to kill any child with a deformity. This horrific responsibility falls on the grandmothers of such children.  Instead of killing her grandchild Yvan, she hid him for three years. We are uncertain how she found the mission but when he got here, Holly, a nurse who works long shifts, took care of him.  Holly asked Gail if she knew anyone willing to have a co-op situation. The little guy has since stolen our hearts.”

Uncertain fate
The families, on average, have the children in their homes for 6 to 9 months. “It is truly a leap of faith,” stated Gail. “I was fortunate in knowing that Nabon went home to a loving family. Yvan’s fate is uncertain. The average life span for a woman in his village is 57 years. His mother is in and out of the picture and his grandmother is the one responsible for his care.” Amy is concerned and wonders how he will survive. “The grandma was begging for food for him. We had a fundraiser to improve the living conditions in his village especially in regards to water purification.”

Medical journey
Yvan began his medical journey with a podiatrist who clipped his Achilles tendon. “Holly and I knew his condition was still at the point that if he went back, he would be killed,” recalled Amy. “Miraculously, a random woman, on Facebook wanted to help us. This angel led us to the Ponseti Method for clubfoot correction and to Dr. Jose Morcuende at the University of Iowa Health Care. At first, he said he had done enough pro bono stuff but then the woman from Facebook sent the doctor Yvan’s picture and he agreed to do it. He was in excruciating pain following the surgery. He was screaming and was so miserable. We turned into the moms from ‘Terms of Endearment’.  His treatment also consisted of having five sets of casts that were changed every two weeks. We are so grateful to the LifeLine Pilots who transported us back and forth to Iowa.”

You can’t keep a good boy down
“Yvan is walking now,” stated Gail. “It is amazing what happens when kids get the medical care they need. I often get asked why I didn’t care for an American child. You don’t see American kids with cleft palates or clubfeet. There is care available to them. Taking in children from impoverished areas does not cost anything to Americans. Everything is donated. The doctor donates their time. We care for him in our home. Amy wonders understands why families have difficulties taking care of a child with special needs when they can barely feed and take care of themselves. Yvan had to learn how to use the toilet and wash his hands afterwards. They don’t have toilet paper,” she explained. “They have nothing. I was also shocked from the mosaic of scars on Yvan’s butt and legs from bug bites. The insects were eating him alive. We think when one mosquito buzzing around us is annoying. Think how he was living.”

The language of love
Nabon never spoke his native language while living with the Bishops but left speaking fluent English. Yvan’s English continues to improve. “It’s hard to figure out what is being a three-year-old and what is a language barrier,” stated Amy. One thing is certain; both boys understand the language of love. Gail and her family said goodbye to Nabon and Amy is preparing for that painful moment in January. “We won’t be able to talk with him when he goes home,” explained Amy. “He has touched all of our lives. I have seen my Dad cry two times; once was when my mom died. He is going to be crushed.” The pain of separation does not deter these two strong women from wanting to help in the future. “The experience has given me an appreciation for the simple things,” stated Amy. “He gave me a deeper faith in not only medicine and God but in people.” Gail will forever cherish her time with Nabon. She stated, “Nabon came from nothing and still exuded joy. He taught me that joy comes from within.”