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How Iowa and Ohio teamed up to give African girl new life back home

Burkina Faso native Ainata Saba smiles after arriving in Iowa.

Feet twisted inwardly, seven year old Ainata Saba was born with clubfoot.

Walking can be challenging for the West African girl, and if the physical discomfort wasn't difficult enough, the villagers in her native land of Burkina Faso perceive her deformity as a curse, an omen of evil.

"If there's a drought or a flood, those with deformities are the cause," said Holly Christini, who has traveled from her home in Galion, Ohio to third-world countries throughout Africa on mission trips.

The prospects are bleak for someone with a physical disability in a society where manual labor is necessary for survival.

Some children are killed at birth.

Others, like Ainata, are outcasts, all but exiled from their village.

"She's not been allowed to get an education because of her deformity," said Christini, who first met Ainata in 2016. "We went from village to village taking pictures of kids with medical needs, and I took her picture."

Christini was looking for children with medical needs, and Ainata's photo became a constant visual reminder of a young girl in a desperate circumstance.

With the help of two nonprofits -- Children's Medical Missions West and LifeLine Pilots --Christini was able to bring Ainata to Ohio, becoming her host mother.

Christini had been through a similar circumstance with a young boy from Ivory Coast, so she knew who to turn to for help -- Dr. Jose Morcuende and the orthopedics department at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

After seeing pictures of Ainata's clubfoot, Morcuende agreed to complete her care, donating his time and knowledge.

Several months of casting and braces -- a non-invasive technique known as the Ponseti Method -- slowly shifted Ainata's feet.

For the West African girl, this was all part of the plan, building toward a surgical intervention.

On July 25, 2017, Ainata received surgery at UIHC to correct her clubfoot.

"Without this life-changing surgery, she would not be able to go to school and be able to get any sort of education," said Christini. "Now when I take her back personally, she will get an education. She will be fully accepted into society."

Each step of the way, guardians helped guide the 7-year-old girl.

From a loving mother to a giving pilot to a caring doctor, each donating time, effort, and ability.

"We have full-time jobs, and we always think that we have enough to do," said Christini, who works as a full-time nurse. "We can always give a little more to someone else who is in need."

Doctors told Christini that Ainata will be able to walk again in September, and after three months of physical therapy, the girl from West Africa will return home with a new pep in her step.

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