Saving Micheline: Round-the-world-yachties’ rescue mission

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Once seen some things cannot be unseen.

That’s how it is for an around-the-world yachting family whose voyage turned into a rescue mission the moment they laid eyes on Micheline.

Last month Nicole and businessman Tobias Janke found 10-year-old Micheline Warri close to death in a mud-floor hut on Pentecost Island, 190 kilometres due north of Vanuatu capital Port Vila.

That encounter last month brought the family into contact with witchcraft, aid agencies and introduced them to a rare autoimmune disease. Most of all, it led to a determination to save Micheline’s life and to see she has a life worth living.

It was a collision of worlds for the Jankes who with Marlene, 6, and Juliane, 5, have spent much of the past few years sailing the world on their 52-foot catamaran, Invictus.

The German couple fell in love with New Zealand during their trip and now call Auckland home. The girls go to school in the city and the family’s residency applications are being processed.

Last school term they took the girls out of school and sailed to the islands where, after throwing anchor at Pentecost Island, they were approached by a man wanting medicine for his granddaughter.

“We asked to see the child and then we found her in a deadly situation,” Nicole told the Herald.

“She was dehydrated, malnourished and not responding. Half of her skin was gone. She had third-degree burns on her legs and feet. They were infected and covered with flies.

“It was shocking. We had never seen something like this and we couldn’t understand how a child could be in a state like this. For us in the Western world we can’t really process that.”

“When we saw her, for us it was clear. We can’t walk away.”

Unlikely to survive a voyage to Port Vila on their yacht, the Jankes arranged a flight paid for by the Vanuatu Government.

The Herald first met the Jankes earlier this month in Port Villa where Micheline was in a modesty-equipped isolation room in Vila Central Hospital. On arrival she weighed 19.5kg and her blood count – a health check that can detect a wide range of disorders including anaemia and infection – was dangerously low.

Tobias explained at the time what they faced. “It is a short-term issue to survive and a very big one about what next.”

In the fortnight since, Micheline has done well. She has had a blood transfusion, fluid through an IV, protein drinks and steroids and has gained 2.5kg, although she still weighs less than the Jankes’ 5-year-old.

Blood and tissue samples sent to Australia have produced a diagnosis. Micheline has the rare genetic autoimmune disease Pemphigus Vulgaris which is even rarer in children.

It causes painful blistering on the skin and mucous membranes and if untreated can lead to death.

They have learned that Micheline’s mother did not receive modern treatment for the disease and died five years ago. When the Jankes found Micheline she had lain in the hut for four months.

“But she is talking, she’s eating, she’s drinking, she’s complaining, she’s drawing, she’s laughing sometimes and the other day she was singing. So this is amazing what everybody has achieved in four weeks for this little girl.”

The Jankes have set up a Givealittle page to help Micheline’s ongoing recovery.

“Now we just have to keep going. We are hoping we will receive enough donations to fly her to a Western country because she needs care for a few months. She is eating up a lot of funds and that is hard for a lot of help agencies.”

It is unlikely that Micheline could manage her disease back in her village but she could in Port Vila where she has family and where agencies have committed to help.

“We are kind of set up for the life after but right now we are focused on bringing her out.”

Micheline’s father and step-mother are getting happier as their daughter improves.

“Before they had no hope that she was going to survive.”

Tobias has stayed in Port Vila while Nicole returned to Auckland with the girls for the new school term.

During the search for help the Jankes were told that Micheline couldn’t be saved and they needed to find a way to accept that.

“But we can’t,” Nicole said. “She is a human being who we kind of fell in love with. She has made so much progress. Micheline is really a fighter.”

“We are settling in New Zealand and Vanuatu is not so far. We will not sail away and leave her alone. She is part of us now.”

The Jankes have pledged to pay the Givealittle fee so that all donations go to help Micheline.


SOURCE: NZ HERALD

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