Independence for Ibrahima

Ibrahima, plastics patient, being carried by his brother before surgery.

It was New Year’s Eve, the last hints of sunset fading in the sky, as 22-year-old Ibrahima abruptly pulled his motorcycle off the side of the road. He was being flagged down by a woman who needed help moving the large can of fuel she was wrestling with. He started helping her pour it into smaller bottles, but as he lost grip of the can, it tipped sideways and began to spill. The fuel soaked through his shorts onto his legs and poured a thick dark trail — right toward the open cooking fire nearby.

Before Ibrahima could register what was happening, flames were blazing and his fuel-soaked clothes were on fire. One thought filled his mind: ‘I’m going to die.’

Strangers helped beat the fire from his body and carried him to a local clinic. He spent the next month lying curled up in bed, immobilized by the pain.

Over time, Ibrahima’s open wounds began to form into ridged scars — but without proper wound care, the resulting burn contractures left his legs locked, permanently bent at the knees.

No longer able to walk, Ibrahima went from a man approached by strangers for help, to someone who had to be carried everywhere he went. Even trips to the bathroom or to his bed involved being hefted on his older brother’s back and carefully seated down. The slowly dawning realization that his independence had been lost completely shook Ibrahima’s identity.

‘I was always lonely… I couldn’t be with people the way I was before,’ Ibrahima said. ‘It was hard seeing my friends able to go out and work. Sometimes, I felt helpless, like I might really be this way forever.’

A year and a half passed slowly. Ibrahima dreamed of being able to work again, but the expensive cost of medical care made surgery seem like a lofty pipe dream.

‘It made me very sad,’ he said. ‘My business had stopped, I couldn’t get money, so I just sat inside the house.’

With many younger siblings and a houseful of mouths to feed, the unexpected drop in income struck his family hard. However, hope arrived one day when a local doctor told him about a hospital ship in Guinea. Before long, Ibrahima arrived at the Africa Mercy with tentative hopes that change might be in sight.

It took the help of his brother, and several Mercy Ships staff, to bring Ibrahima up the gangway steps and onto the ship for his operation.

Just one month later, Ibrahima faced those gangway steps again — but the time onboard had changed everything. His legs in casts, and crutches underneath both arms, Ibrahima slowly started to walk down, a look of determination on his face. Nurses called encouragement down from the top. Every simple step was a mountain to overcome, and by the end of his descent, cheers erupted.

Ibrahima’s rehab process was gruelling and intense. For several months, he visited the ship several times a week for exercises that stretched his healing legs and improved his mobility. Here his resilience shone through — Ibrahima had his independence back in sight, and he wasn’t going to lose it again.

Eventually, Ibrahima was given the news he’d been working towards: You’re good to go! His hard work at rehab had paid off, and he was free to return home and start a new chapter.

Now with his independence back and a renewed ability to return to work and earn a living, Ibrahima feels like a new man in every way.

‘I feel taller,’ he said. ‘I was always sitting and seeing the world from a lower level. It felt like everyone was looking down on me. Now, I’m seeing everything from high up!’

Written by: Rose Talbot