Like so many good stories, this one starts with candy.
Four years ago, Abigail Hayo visited a merchant in Bhopal named Nirmaldas. Abigail is a mission coordinator for Medical Missions Foundation, and she was visiting the city on a scouting trip. Nirmaldas runs a tiny sundry shop. Candy jars line his counter, chip bags hang from clips. Abigail bought mango candy—his shop is near the Sewa Sadan Eye Hospital, where the organization now works annually—and each year, the tradition has continued: Abigail walks down the narrow, bustling street, past zigzagging mopeds and the occasional cow, for her fruity candy fix.
Unbeknownst to Abigail, Nirmaldas’s family was struggling. His oldest son died, devastating his parents and hurting the family financially. Nirmaldas’s wife, Aturi, was suffering from a painful hernia. She needed surgery, but she also had an obstructed bowel. They couldn’t afford both procedures—Nirmaldas’s shop earns about $50 a month. The family chose the bowel surgery, but the hernia left her bedridden, immobilized by the pain.
Because of their proximity to the hospital—the family lives above Nirmaldas’s shop—they had heard about Medical Missions Foundation’s reputation. Aturi was approved for surgery, and when Abigail learned of the candy connection, she was immediately interested in the case. Abigail and Nirmaldus had never spoken. They shared only smiles and nods at his counter. But she considered him a friend.
The day of Aturi’s surgery, she visited his home, where Nirmaldas and Aturi live with 10 family members. The couple’s daughter-in-law served coffee and home-cooked potato chips and other still-warm snacks. Afternoon sunlight softly lit the room as two of her small, beautiful children peered from blankets, awakening from naps. “We hope our home will be a happier place,” she told Abigail through a translator. It is painful, she said, to see Aturi struggle. The family has prayed, often, for her health.
Abigail visited Aturi in the hospital before the surgery. The two women had never met, but they hugged like old friends. In the operating room, urologist Brandon Pomeroy discovered that Aturi had not one hernia, but two. The next morning, she smiled in the recovery room when Abigail arrived. She’s sore, and tired, and hungry, but optimistic. As for Nirmaldas, his bond with Abigail is now deeper than mango candies. When Abigail passes his shop in the morning, they smile, and nod, and quickly, fleetingly, they clutch hands.
Here are scenes from Nirmaldas’s home: