For many of our patients, a simple surgery can be the difference between a life of pain and rejection or one of hope and acceptance. For baby Fatou, a free surgical procedure to fix a cleft palate was the opportunity for renewed hope.  

In the developed world, a cleft palate would be identified prenatally on an ultrasound and repaired before the child was 6 months old. In developing nations where healthcare is out of reach for millions of people, this is not the case.  

In these countries, many babies who suffer from this condition have difficulty eating and can oftentimes become malnourished. This was the reality of baby Fatou. 

Fatou’s mother brought her little girl to Mercy Ships when Fatou was 2 years old in hopes of finding healing for her cleft palate. When she arrived, the toddler weighed only 10 pounds, nearly as much as her infant brother. The doctors worried that Fatou was too small for a safe and successful surgery, so they enrolled her in the Mercy Ships Infant Feeding Program at the Hospital Out-Patient Extension Center (HOPE Center).  

After six months of care in our Infant Feeding Program, and with gentle rehab, Fatou was able to receive nutrients and gain muscle strength. Her weight steadily rose until she had gained enough for a successful surgery that repaired her cleft palate.

Fatou is a prime example of the importance of feeding a child better… It makes a difference in their lives and overall well-being,” shared Jessica Mepstead, Clinical Dietician and Infant Feeding Program Coordinator for Mercy Ships. “Fatou was so tiny before. During her time with us she was not given any special medicine — her recovery was diet based. She couldn’t have started rehab without the Infant Feeding Program. It’s amazing the difference that better nutrition will make.” 

Thanks to the tenacious care of our Infant Feeding Program coordinators and surgery to repair her cleft palate, Fatou is now bursting with life, and her mother is beaming with a newly restored hope. 


The HOPE Center: A Place of Recovery

The HOPE Center is the epicenter of healing and growth for many patients who need additional care both before and after surgery. There, patients and their caregivers are given clean beds, warm meals, attentive care — and most importantly — hope. 

Dr. Gary Parker, who has served for over 30 years as a volunteer surgeon with Mercy Ships, said that hope is the one thing many patients lack when they arrive. 

“For hope to be credible in the future, it must be tangible in the present,” Dr. Parker said. 

And the HOPE Center provides a space where patients can experience this powerful healing component as they recover after surgery. For the HOPE Center Manager, Martha Rodriguez, it is more than a hopeful place — it is joyful! 

“I think overall it’s a great experience. By the time [our patients] get to the HOPE Center, they’ve recovered enough to get around on their own,” Martha said. “For me, it’s a really joyous place.”