When Beach native Mitch Hildebrant left to Africa nearly two years ago to fight for the lives of children, he never thought he would be battling for his own life.
About six weeks ago, he went with stomach pain to a hospital in Swaziland, where he and his wife, Charlotte, reside.
"It is not like an American hospital — most equipment is quite old, but there are doctors and nurses," Mitch stated in an email. "I would liken it to a hospital in the USA in the '70s."
He was diagnosed with appendicitis and what was supposed to be a routine procedure that would get him back to ministry within three days turned into a nightmare of complications.
"The next day I went in for the operation and while under sedation the doctor discovered a tumor in my intestine," he wrote. "He did a laparotomy and in addition to the 6-inch horizontal opening for the appendix, he made a 12-inch incision vertically up the center of my stomach."
Less than a week later, his health was declining and he was taken to MediClinic in Nelspruit, South Africa.
"The material in the intestines was leaking all over inside my body," Mitch wrote. "I had arrived malnourished, dehydrated, double lung pneumonia, double plural effusion (water between lung and diaphragm) and my right lower lung was collapsed."
His abdomen was full of bacteria and his kidneys were failing.
"The doctor explained that I was very sick, and had I come 24 hours later, I would most likely not be alive," he stated in the email. "Proper prep and time was not taken into account for the initial surgery (which I did not give consent for) back in Swaziland."
Several other complications have developed and he may be in the hospital for another six weeks.
"I was very scared," Mitch wrote. "There was a lot wrong with my body. But one by one, the medical staff is working at each problem."
He has lost about 25 pounds and he has a 9-by-12-inch open wound across his stomach.
"Due to the severity and number of surgeries, it is not a wound that can just be pulled back together and closed," he wrote.
Doctors will eventually graft skin over the wound until he is well enough for surgery to close it.
"I am so blessed to be able to be by his side throughout all of this," Charlotte stated in an email. "The power of prayer has sustained us through some pretty dark times. We know we are not alone and that God has kept Mitch in the palm of His hand through all of this. We are anxious for the healing of his wound, but understand that it will take time."
His mother, Bobbi Hildebrant, said she feels helpless at her home in Beach.
"If I didn't have my faith in the Lord, I wouldn't make it," she said. "You want to be there. You want to put your arms around him and pray with him, but you have to do all of that from a distance."
She has offered to fly to Mitch, but said he told her he would rather she use her money to help the children of Swaziland.
The missionary team the Hildebrants are working with has constructed several facilities to care for thousands of children since they arrived in Swaziland, Mitch said.
"These kids are seeing what hope is," he wrote. "When a child sits on your lap and tells you their dream, it is a beautiful thing. Most kids here would only think about the next meal."
Other missionaries and local staff have continued working since Mitch has fallen ill.
"It has been hard on them, and things have had to slow down a little, but they do a fantastic job and have risen to the challenge for as long as it takes to get me back," he wrote.
It could take another six weeks before he is able to leave the hospital and he will need to return several months afterward to have his wound closed.
Medical benefit to help Mitch
A spaghetti dinner and baked goods sale to help defray medical costs for Mitch Hildebrant will be held at Peace Lutheran Church in Dickinson on May 6 from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Mitch and his wife, Charlotte, have been doing missionary work in Swaziland, Africa. Mitch has been in a South African hospital for weeks battling several medical problems.
"They had an African medical policy in Swaziland, but they've exceeded the cap, the limit, of $75,000," said Mitch's mother, Bobbi Hildebrant.
In addition, a medical fund has been established at Wells Fargo in Dickinson and First State Bank in Beach. Those interested can send donations to either location.