Nabinty’s husband had died 10 years ago, and she was now the sole bread winner for her family. She would buy a large sack of rice, and then divide it into small packets to sell to her neighbours for a meal at a time.

But as the 35 year-old ‘s tumour grew, sales dropped off. Nabinty eventually lost her entire livelihood because people became afraid of her. They were terrified that her tumour was contagious and they too would become affected if they bought her rice.

Her family was living on the bread-line; there seemed to be no hope for Nabinty to receive the medical help she needed in Guinea, West Africa. The required surgery was not only well beyond her financial reach, there was simply no one around who could perform the specialised and risky procedure.

The removal of Nabinty’s tumour by volunteer Kiwi surgeon Dr Neil Thomson saved her life. ‘She had a carotid tumour – it developed on the side of her neck, where the carotid artery branches into smaller blood vessels to carry blood to the brain. It was growing through the nerves in Nabinty’s face,’ Dr Neil explains.

Dr Neil and the surgical team painstakingly removed the mass as well as the multitude of fingers reaching through her nerves. ‘It was complex and invasive,’ summarises Dr Neil.

The tumour’s disappearance from her face restored the confidence of Nabinty’s community. She could return to selling rice and could once again provide for her family. She was no longer shunned and ashamed. When her tumour was removed free of charge on the Mercy Ship, everything changed for Nabinty!

Read more about Dr Neil

Filmed and produced by TVNZ SUNDAY, and made with funding from New Zealand on Air