Young Yeabsira’s parents have always thought of him as their gift from God — even if that gift came with a measure of grief.
The 6-year-old was born with Apert syndrome, which affects the shape of a person’s head and hands. For Yeabsira, this meant that his fingers on both hands were fused.
“Some people tell us he is like this because of our sins and others say it is because I didn’t take care of him during pregnancy,” said Yeabsira’s mother, Tigist. “This is not true. All of these thoughts break my heart.”
As a mother, Tigist’s dream is for Yeabsira to go to school, but unfortunately, he cannot hold a pencil without surgery on his hands. While she searched for healing around her home in Ethiopia, it wasn’t until she found CURE that her prayers were answered.
CURE International runs hospitals in several countries throughout Africa. In early 2021, Mercy Ships began supporting CURE by helping staff hospitals with highly qualified volunteers. Through local partnerships like these, Mercy Ships has continued to deliver safe and accessible surgery to those who need it most.
During the pandemic, long-term Mercy Ships volunteer plastic surgeon Dr. Tertius Venter, from South Africa, has been rotating through these hospitals, finding ways to serve until the organization’s hospital ships can return to service in Africa.
“Just to see the need of the patients in the different hospitals as well as here, the long waiting lists,” he said. “There’s a lot of work that can be done.”
Dr. Venter went to work at a CURE hospital in Niger at the beginning of 2021, then to Malawi, and onward to Ethiopia. That’s where he met Yeabsira and his family.
“These children are ashamed of their hands, and they often hide it away from other people, especially other children, because they get mocked,” Dr. Venter shared.
Yeabsira had very little control over his hands, but thanks to surgery with Dr. Venter and continued therapy and medical help, the young boy should be able to make one of his mother’s dreams come true: holding a pencil.
“At least now, with the fingers separated, he will find that much easier,” Dr. Venter said. “But also just general functions like putting on his clothes and looking after himself will make a big difference for him to become more independent.”
Yeabsira’s name means “the work of God,” and as a full-time volunteer serving in sub-Saharan Africa, that’s exactly the work that Dr. Venter pursues.
“When God called me to do this, He really gave me word that He would provide for me,” Dr. Venter said.
At that time, he was in private practice, performing plastic surgeries and living what he called the “dream” — a house on the river, a boat, three cars, and a vacation home.
“I just had a life-changing experience, and suddenly felt that those things had no meaning,” he shared. “I just got rid of everything, closed my practice, and became a full-time volunteer. Now, it’s the love of Christ that compels me to do it because this is where I feel closest to him.”
Now, working in hospitals like the one in Ethiopia and helping families like Yeabsira’s grasp a new future brings meaning to Dr. Venter’s life. And that meaning impacts more than just him. Yeabsira’s mother shared her thankfulness, saying how grateful she was that God used volunteers to help her son find hope and healing.
“I just want my son to live the best life that he can,” she said. “I want him to go to school, make something of himself, and be able to do what normal people can.”