Close this search box.

Mother can embrace her children for the first time after life-changing surgery

A mother of three is able to hug her children with both arms for the first time after a charity gave her transformational surgery on severe burns she sustained as a child.

Coumba, 31, from Senegal was just four when she injured herself while rescuing her little brother from an open fire but she has had to wait 27 years for treatment.

Due to lack of medical care, as her arm healed, it fused in a bent position and Coumba adjusted to life with only one functional arm and hand.

Coumba said: “Our mother used to cook with fire. It was a big farm, so my mother would start a fire in one place, then go to another. My little brother was playing by the fire, got too close, and started to burn.”

As she rushed to save her brother, she fell into the fire herself.

She recalled: “I fell on my left side, so I burned there. My brother was then crying a lot, which my mother heard, so she came to us, but I was already entirely burnt on my left side.”

She grew up to marry, work as a maid, and raise three children on their rice and vegetable farm in a village in northern Senegal.

Coumba longed to take care of the farm herself, like many other women do in Senegal, but her limited range of motion made this dream impossible.

“I can do everything, except the work needed on a vegetable farm,” Coumba said. “In Senegal, ladies tend to have a small space where they can have potatoes, carrots, and peppers that they use to cook their own food, but to do that, you must go and fetch water from the well, and I cannot do that.”

But everything changed when she heard that a hospital ship from international development charity Mercy Ships was coming to the port of Dakar to provide free surgeries and medical training.

Reconstructive surgeon Dr Tertius Venter, a South African who has volunteered with Mercy Ships since 2000, said that although Coumba lacked access to suitable healthcare options, her condition was treatable, and she was cleared for surgery.

He said: “The good thing about burn injuries is only the skin is involved, so it’s scar and skin. The underlying muscle, the tendons, the nerves are usually not involved. So, we can release the contractures, get them back in a normal position, and then their muscles can function again, so we can get good outcomes.”

But the surgery was extensive decades of inactivity had stiffened her joints and weakened her muscles. Coumba’s elbow had been stuck in a flexed position for nearly three decades.

Despite this, Coumba said: “I barely felt the pain because I knew I was going to be healed.”

Volunteer hand therapist Dr Jody Kissel, from America, helped Coumba relearn how to use her arm after the surgery and taught her how to continue the rehabilitation process upon returning home. She called her an “overcomer.”

Dr Kissel said: “By the time a year’s up, I have every bit of hope that she will be able to raise her arm up over her head, be able to hang up laundry, to be able to care for her child, and do those things she said she was hoping as a goal to do.”

Putting her hand to her mouth, moving her fingers and rotating her arms were landmark moments for Coumba but things she feared she would never do again.

Coumba was eventually ready to leave the hospital and return home to embrace her family — doing so with both arms for the very first time.

She is marveling at the many things she can do for her family that she could not before, giving her newfound independence and work opportunities.

I always wanted to do the laundry, now I can. I am able to fetch firewood now. I can draw water from wells now. I only could use one hand. Now I can use my both hands. All I can say is I am happy and I thank God!”

Are you drawn to finding purpose and joy by bringing hope and healing to those who desperately need it? Discover how you can get involved today.

Find your own place on board

Want to be part of making a tangible impact during this exciting season in Madagascar? There’s still time – and still space for you on board!

Share this article:

Related content

Make a difference in Africa together
Subscribe To E-opportunities

Receive here our monthly volunteer Mercy Ships opportunities email

    Thank you for your registration ! Click on the link in the validation email that has just been sent to you to confirm your registration (note: this email may be hidden in your spam).