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Hawa passes on the healing

17 years later

Hawa's life-saving surgery

There was much excitement on board the Global Mercy ® recently, as a young woman named Hawa climbed up the gangway.

The aspiring young nurse from Sierra Leone has never set foot on this brand-new hospital ship, but she’s walked this swaying path over the water before.

Hawa had boarded the first Mercy Ship, the Anastasis, as a small child. She was living through a terrifying ordeal; a tumour slowly stealing her ability to eat and breathe.

Hawa’s life was snatched from the brink of death on that Mercy Ship 17 years ago, and a new dream was born in her heart.

Losing Faith

Hawa was a young girl when a tumour began to grow in her mouth. It was not cancerous, but it was life-threatening.

“At that time, I was scared,” she recalls. In just two years, the tumour was developing outwards and inwards, threatening Hawa’s life.

Story of Hawa

“It was coming to a point in time where I could not eat anymore. Even drinking was difficult for me. Even to talk was difficult.”

Hawa would stay inside, crying, refusing to show her face outside. The people around her began to give up hope. “Even me,” she said. “Because I think there is no life for me anymore because the tumour was just swelling up, swelling up. … Everybody was thinking, ‘She’s just waiting for her time to go.’”

Finding Hope on Board

Hawa’s father tried to find someone who could help his daughter. He found that local doctors could not perform the necessary surgery. Then, a friend connected him to Mercy Ships.

In 2005, he travelled with Hawa to the Anastasis, where doctors examined her and determined that she needed an operation right away.

“Everybody was coming around me, encouraging me,” she said, recalling being on board that first hospital ship. “They’d say, ‘Don’t lose hope, don’t worry.’”

Hawa stopped being afraid. She believed that things were about to get better. 

Dr Gary Parker, the longtime Mercy Ships volunteer maxillofacial surgeon, removed Hawa’s tumour. Hawa still remembers how her father responded when he saw her for the first time without the growth in her mouth.

“He was so happy, just dancing, ‘Oh, God, thank you,’” she said. “We were just celebrating, rejoicing.”

When Hawa returned home, she says her friends did not even recognise her.

Story of Hawa

“They said, ‘This is Hawa?’” she laughed as she remembered. “I said, ‘This is Hawa.’.

Those who had lost hope and thought ‘She can’t make it,’  said ‘Wow!’

After her life-saving surgery on the Mercy Ship, Hawa’s path became clear.

“My dad looked at me and said, ‘You have to become a nurse, so that you can save others’ life as they did for you.’”

Hawa’s father passed away shortly after witnessing his daughter’s miracle. She decided to make his dream her own and started on the long road to becoming a nurse.

Returning to the Ship

In 2011, Hawa made another visit to Mercy Ships, this time boarding the Africa Mercy®, when it sailed into Freetown.

She reunited with Dr Gary Parker and even met the president and vice president of Sierra Leone. Dr Parker showed the gathered audience a photo of the tumour that had almost taken Hawa’s life. He didn’t need to show an “after” photo, though. She was right there, evidence of a miracle.

Hawa received a standing ovation.

In 2023, she once again had the chance to meet with the surgeon who had saved her life.

Story of Hawa

‘Take a Look at Me Now’

Today, at 23 years old, Hawa sees her Mercy Ships surgery as a turning point. Once her tumour was removed, she was no longer isolated from her community.

“When I came back home, everybody was coming around me, everyone was rejoicing with me,” she said.

But Hawa knows it was not just her quality of life that was saved. It was her life itself. “If I wasn’t having the surgery, I don’t think I would be alive,” she said. “Maybe I should have been dead and gone.”

Hawa is now studying to becoming a nurse. Some days she gets up at 2 a.m. to do her schoolwork, then heads for the bus at 5 a.m. She pushes herself so that she can pass along the healing she found nearly two decades ago.

“That gave me the inspiration to become a nurse, so that I can save lives, too,” she said.

There’s another dream that Hawa harbours in her heart: to one day serve with Mercy Ships as a nurse, alongside Dr. Gary Parker and the others who helped give her life.

“I will one day tell people about my life,” she said. “From the sickness to now. … That’s my dream.”

In the meantime, she’s excited that the Global Mercy is in Sierra Leone, helping others just like her. If there’s anyone who’s losing hope, like she was, Hawa believes they will find it again.

“Let no one be ashamed of anything,” she said. “Let them come outside to show themselves, so that they can get help.”

After all, Hawa says she’s living proof that hope is never lost: “Just take a look at me now.”

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