Leon’s lost smile

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He couldn’t reach the medical care he needed after his accident

It was a normal afternoon for 42-year-old Leon as he caught a lift on the back of a friend’s motorcycle. Racing through frenzied traffic, the driver swerved to avoid oncoming vehicles as they made their way across the city. Suddenly, they lost control and Leon was thrown from the bike. Given the extent of his friend’s life-threatening injuries, Leon counted himself lucky to only walk away with flesh wounds around his jaw.

With the hospital closed and little money to spend on treatment, Leon made the long journey back home to his village. Little did he know that leaving his injuries to heal without medical attention would result in scar tissue, leaving a keloid tumour that would grow larger and heavier every day.

Fifteen years later, unable to access the care he needed, life became increasingly difficult. He pushed through and continued working on a cocoa farm to support his wife and eight children, but it was no easy feat.

‘There are certain things I just can’t do at work, like using a chainsaw. It’s just too uncomfortable for me,” said Leon. “It brings me down that I can’t do my job properly.’

He was used to being mocked — the taunting voices were a part of everyday life. ‘There are few people left that empathize with me anymore. I am sad and not really living my life, but rather coping with life.’

Thankfully, word of mouth brought Leon to Mercy Ships, and his wife and children waited hopefully for his return to their village.

Kiwi nurse Vivien Welch changing Leon’s bandage.

The tumour was one of the largest keloid tumours our volunteer plastic surgeon had operated on. After a procedure that successfully removed the tumour, a skin graft was used to patch up the remaining wound around his jaw.

Surgery alone could not remove the emotional baggage that had gathered in Leon’s heart. But the care and support he received at Mercy Ships soon made a visible change in Leon both physically and emotionally. Before long, a smile began to spread across his face; joy replaced sadness. The scar tissue that had grown from years of torment and ridicule began to break away.

As the time for Leon to return home drew closer, he excitedly began to picture his reunion with his family.

‘My younger children won’t recognize me, they’ve never seen me without my condition!’ he exclaimed. Leon’s tumour had determined how he’d felt — different, rejected, outcast — for a long time. But after his life-giving surgery on the Africa Mercy, his emotional scars gave way to the transformation of assurance, acceptance, and joy.

‘I feel lighter,’ he proclaimed. ‘It’s like a weight has been lifted, and not just because of the physical tumour. My burden has been removed.’

He says he’s changed – emotionally as well as physically