2019 November

Let me tell you about how the remarkable began for Tene.

Mariam, a successful West African businesswoman, was passing through Tene’s Guinean village. She spotted a group of children by the side of the road, and she stopped to offer them a handful of sweets when her eyes landed on one girl in particular: three-year-old Tene.

With deep amber eyes and a smile that is quick to come and slow to leave, little Tene captured Mariam’s heart immediately. She watched the child playing for a while before she noticed Tene’s imbalanced gait and uneven feet. One was normal, but the other had an oversized ankle and foot. She would later learn that this condition was caused by an amniotic band — thin strands of tissue that wrap around forming body parts during pregnancy, restricting blood flow and affecting limb growth.

According to Dr Tertius Venter, a volunteer plastics reconstructive surgeon onboard the Africa Mercy, when treated soon after birth this condition can be cured with a relatively simple surgery. However, the longer it’s left untreated, the more complicated it becomes – and can even result in the loss of a limb.

“I was really sad … It was my first time seeing this kind of sickness,” Mariam said. “She’s just a baby.”

Like you, Mariam was touched by Tene’s plight but she didn’t stop at feeling sorry for the little girl. Mariam put her compassion into action and decided to do what she could to make a difference for Tene.

Mariam knew they needed something amazing to happen because fixing Tene’s leg seemed like an unobtainable dream. She began asking at local hospitals if anyone knew where help could be found.

An answer came. News of the upcoming arrival of the Africa Mercy had spread through Guinea, and Mariam set out to connect Tene with the Mercy Ship — hoping for a miracle.

Despite not speaking the same language, Mariam brought Tene and her mother, Saran, into her home only a few kilometres from where the Africa Mercy was docked in Conakry.

Tene was accessed by the Mercy Ships medical team. She met kind-hearted volunteers from New Zealand and around the world donating their skills to provide what had previously seemed impossible. Your generosity meant the whole medical process – from assessment and surgery to physiotherapy – would be provided without any cost to Tene’s family or to Mariam! Tene was admitted and had the operation on board to remove the amniotic band and cut away the swollen tissue.

After surgery, Tene’s foot gradually shrank back to normal proportions. Through regular rehab exercises, her clunky gait slowly grew into the confident walk of a curious three-year-old. Puzzle books, colourful toys and TLC from our crew members nurtured her through recovery.

Just a few months later Tene was able to wear regular shoes for the very first time.

Saran and Mariam watched on with pride knowing Tene would now grow up with the chance of a normal life. Thanks to the generosity of huge-hearted people like you, dreams became reality.

With her leg healed, Tene spent Christmas with her family. Now she can walk on two sturdy feet, run races without holding back, attend school and enjoy a carefree childhood without the condition that once defined her future.

This Christmas children like Tene are hoping for a gift that will change their future – the ability to hold a pencil, to see clearly or to stand with straight strong legs.

Thank you for being an answer to their prayers by making a gift today!

2019 November

VIDEO: It looked like a boot on Tene’s leg – but it wasn’t. When she was still in the womb, a band of tissue wrapped around her leg. As Tene grew, so did the swelling. They couldn’t find anyone with the surgical skills who would help them, and her mother despaired.

But thanks to friends like you, free surgery on the Mercy Ship turned Tene’s clunky gait into the happy skip of a typical three-year-old. Watch Tene’s inspiring story now

2019 November

It was a stranger who eventually told Valerie about Mercy Ships. One day, the 14-year-old left the shop on an errand, only to be startled by a woman following her, trying to give her information. ‘I was scared,’ remembered Valerie, ‘but, looking back, I think that woman was an angel.’

Not long afterwards Valerie came onboard the Africa Mercy. She was one of 78 children and teenagers who would receive orthopaedic surgery during the ship’s 10-month field service in Benin. But for especially older paediatric patients, correcting bowed legs isn’t a quick process. Even after her successful surgery, Valerie’s legs needed lots of time and physical therapy in order for her to be strong enough to walk.

Fast forward a few months, and Valerie had almost finished with rehab. She wasn’t staying in the hospital on board anymore, but instead she was living in the nearby HOPE  (the Mercy Ships Hospital OutPatient Extension) centre. It was a sunny afternoon, and she was lying down, looking at the sky. ‘I was very happy that day,’ she remembered. ‘I told myself, ‘Now that [Mercy Ships] have healed my legs, I no longer want to be a seamstress … I want to go back to school.’

Not long after that moment, Valerie’s legs had become strong enough to go home. She didn’t go back to her apprenticeship. Instead, she was going to return to school to learn a trade. ‘It will be great,’ she anticipated. ‘People will say, Is this the same girl? Her legs are straight!’

And they most certainly did!

2019 November

VIDEO: Aicha’s mother believed that someday, someway, help would come. Her huge-hearted hope that her daughter’s sight would be restored was fulfilled. Shadows turn to light when Aicha received a free operation on the Mercy Ship, and her future was changed forever.

2019 November

What went wrong – or did it go right? Of the 6,000 people who lined up to be accessed for surgery during screening event in Guinea, West Africa last year, only six children presented with cleft lips or palates! Normally, we would expect to see hundreds of little ones suffering from this birth defect.

It was far from a disappointing result. This significantly reduced number is due in part to medical capacity building and surgical mentoring that has taken in Guinea in recent years. Dr  Diallo participates in a mentorship with Mercy Ships and has helped facilitate the work of local surgeons performing 323 lip and palate surgeries in the capital city over the past two years.

‘We have put ourselves out of a job (in one of the 56 countries in Africa), which is what we have been trying to do,’ explains Dr Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer onboard the Africa Mercy.

‘Depending on what statistics you look at, every three to ten minutes a child [somewhere in the world] is born with a cleft lip or palate. It’s a major public health issue,’ Dr Parker explains.

‘I first mentored Dr Raphiou Diallo in 1998,’ reflects Dr Parker. ‘He had already left his education at this point, and his dream was to build a team of people who could help this region of West Africa. Because of his formal training and his ‘heart’, he is the one who can move things forward.’

Since then, Dr Diallo has taken further surgical exams in France. With these qualifications, he could easily move himself and his family to Europe, where the standard of living is higher. But he doesn’t. His commitment is to West Africa — to his home.

‘It says a lot about his position and his commitment to building his continent up,’ Dr Parker comments. ‘When you find someone passionate about helping those in their own country and who wants to teach, you can go so far.’

Praised for his ability to do great work with limited resources, Dr Diallo has also enabled those mentoring on the ship to see that medical training means very little if participants can’t apply what they’ve learned in the field.

‘Dr Diallo can do so much more with a lot less compared to high-income surgeons. He is teaching me how to make things go further. As the world goes forward we need to learn how to be more economical,’ Dr Parker said. ‘I have learned a lot over the years from this man, and he has shaped how I teach. We continue to grow together.’

As one of the greatest influencer in West Africa, Dr Diallo’s impact is far bigger than we can measure and makes a lasting difference in thousands of lives.

‘For lasting impact, you need people who are determined, and a place they can do it,’ Dr Parker said. ‘Diallo needs support and infrastructure — that’s where Mercy Ships comes in. But before this, you need someone with the heart to do something about the need — that’s who he is.’