Lalao’s and her husband struggle to make ends meet. Five of their six children live in with them in one-room in Madagascar’s capital city. Lalao’s husband works on a rice farm, and Lalao helped support their family by working in a small local restaurant.

Their financial challenges increased 13 years ago when Lalao noticed a lump in her neck. As time passed, the growth increased in size. Despite the scarf she wore to cover her throat, the café owner dismissed her saying her goitre would disturb his customers. “That left me in a difficult situation,” she shares.

The ever-cheerful Lalao set her hands to work at whatever came her way; washing clothes by hand, toiling in the fields – earning less than one dollar a day. Exertion made it difficult for her to breathe.

As the swelling at the front of Lalao’s neck grew, so did her anxiety. Sometimes she awoke during the night choking and gasping for breath. “It affected my breathing, in the beginning that was frightening!” she recalls. “If I lay flat my breathing was blocked. I had to make sure my head was upright, and I woke two or three times every night.”

A friend received a text message alert advertising that Mercy Ships was screening patients for problems like hers, so Lalao went along. She received both a diagnosis and a solution.

Mercy Ships could remove her goitre, but it requires pre-operative monitoring of hormone and blood levels. So Lalao and half a dozen other goitre patients would make the trip to the Mercy Ship every month to have their check-ups. This made it impossible for Lalao to hold down regular work. Reaching the goitre clinic involved six, nine-hour return bus trips for Lalao, and the family’s finances were stretched to a critical level. “I had to travel so many times, and it costs a lot,” explains Lalao. “It was really difficult to lose my job and the money. It was hard for my family to pay for my travel. I did any work I could get just to help.” She even borrowed from her neighbours who encouraged her to continue with her treatment.

When her surgical date finally came, Lalao sold the last four family chickens and bought a bus ticket to take her once again to the hospital ship.

Lalao’s transformation was immediate and complete. The free surgery removed the goitre which had plagued her for 13 years. “I feel really free!” she declared. “ I don’t need that scarf any more. I will give to my mother!”

Mercy Ships needs your help to provide surgeries for patients like Lalao who have no other access to affordable surgery for their life-impacting conditions. Your donation today makes a forever difference.