Leocadie and her husband Edwige were filled with excitement when they found out they were expecting their fourth child. Leocadie was thrilled to have a new baby boy! But during a routine checkup, an ultrasound revealed some alarming news that no mother wants to hear: “There’s something wrong with your baby.”
When Leocadie gave birth, the malformation spotted in the ultrasound proved to be an enormous teratoma tumour growing on her baby’s tailbone.
Leocadie cried when her baby was born, and the tears didn’t stop for the next three months as she watched the tumour grow. Leocadie also dealt with glaucoma, and her vision was severely impaired while she was trying to care for her new baby. It was difficult to know how to hold him with the tumour, and others had to guide him into her arms. Without money to afford surgery to remove it, she was overcome with paralyzing fear for her son’s future.
“I was so sad. I thought he would die. I couldn’t stop crying,” said Leocadie. And if he did survive, she was left with an unrelenting barrage of questions about what his life might look like. “Will he work? Will he go to school? Will he have friends? Maybe he’ll need to only stay in the house and be a recluse,” she thought sadly.
But she still had hope that one day, with God’s help, her baby boy could live a normal life — free from the weight of the tumour. She and Edwige decided to name their son Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.”
“Since he was born like this, we knew his life would come with a lot of troubles. We said, ‘Let your name be Emmanuel so God will be with you,’” said Leocadie. “His name is a testimony because if God was not with us, he would surely have died, or I would have died carrying him.”
Before long, their hopes and prayers for Emmanuel seemed to come true. Edwige was working for a company that works with Mercy Ships to help with the vessel’s shipping container needs. Edwige’s boss told him about the free surgeries available onboard the Africa Mercy.
Hopeful for Emmanuel’s chance to receive surgery, they brought their baby to the ship and found the timing was nothing short of a miracle. Emmanuel had to be three months old to receive surgery to remove the tumour, and he had just turned three months old the very day he was screened!
Fortunately, the volunteer surgeon who specializes in cases like Emmanuel’s, Dr Sherif Emil, happened to be on the Africa Mercy at just the right time as well.
“‘Teratoma’ in Greek means monster,” said Dr Emil. “The irony of these tumours is that over 90% are benign, but when they’re not treated, they (have the potential) to kill the child.”
Bringing Emmanuel to the ship was an enormous step of courage for Leocadie. She was entrusting foreign doctors with her baby, and without her eyesight, she had to have faith in what she could not see. Her older sister, Jocelyne, served as her eyes, accompanying Leocadie to every appointment and staying with them on the ship.
The surgical process to remove Emmanuel’s tumour took over 8 hours, but the result was a resounding success. “His outcome was just a testament to survival, resilience, and blessing,” said Dr Emil.
The teratoma tumour weighed 2.6 kilograms — roughly a third of Emmanuel’s entire body weight when he had the surgery.
After surgery, Leocadie reached out to hold Emmanuel. She could not see the change herself, but she immediately felt it. “I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. He was so much lighter. I could feel the difference,” Leocadie said. “Before, I couldn’t see him but I could touch him with my hands and feel his condition, but now, it’s no longer enormous. His diapers fit him now where they never could before.”
Emmanuel has only grown stronger and happier since his surgery, and the difference in his family is also tangible. They smile more easily now; the weight of worry is released from their shoulders.
Now Leocadie knows that her son — her “gift from God,” as she calls him — will grow up with a brighter future than she thought possible before the surgery.
“He’s really living up to his name. Since we got to Mercy Ships, everything has gone so smoothly,” smiled Leocadie on Emmanuel’s final day onboard. “God has truly been with us!”
Written by: Rose Talbot