For 25-year-old Diarra, stepping into the operating room of the Africa Mercy was a moment more than ten years in the making. She had been looking for healing for a facial tumor for almost half her life.
“I feel so good inside my heart,” she exclaimed about her opportunity for surgery. “I have been to many different doctors, but they couldn’t heal it.”
She couldn’t recall when the tumor began to grow. All she remembers is being a teenager and experiencing a toothache that led to a small growth. From there, “it just kept getting bigger.”
Diarra’s parents took her to several hospitals. Each visit was a step in an uphill battle, made harder by their meager earnings as small-scale farmers. Medical costs loomed large, forcing them to choose between caring for their other children or seeking healing for their daughter. Eventually, they stopped looking.
Days became years, and the tumor remained.
“It affected me a lot,” Diarra shared. “There were many activities I would like to do but could not.”
Eventually Diarra started her own family, marrying her husband and beginning a family of their own.
When she gave birth to her daughter, Diarra brimmed with joy. Becoming a mother was a lifelong dream. Yet amid the elation, a shadow lingered. She wanted to witness every milestone of her daughter’s life but was afraid she wouldn’t be healthy enough.
The desire to get better became overwhelming and urgent. “I have to be healthy to take care of her,” she told herself.
In 2021, Diarra heard through the radio that Mercy Ships would soon return to Senegal. The news ignited a spark that became a beacon of possibility. Diarra clung to hope with unwavering determination.
Preoperative appointments revealed that Diarra had a rare, non-cancerous tumor that began in the cells forming the protective enamel lining on her teeth. Without surgical intervention, such tumors continue to grow and could block the airways, preventing breathing and eating. Dr. Josh Wiedermann, a Mercy Ships volunteer surgeon from the United States, explained that in higher-income countries, such cases could be caught in the early stages during routine dental examinations.
Because Diarra hadn’t been able to access timely and affordable healthcare, what started as a toothache had escalated into a significant tumor. Following the appointment, she was approved for surgery on the Africa Mercy.
Diarra and her husband lived far from the ship and traveling for surgery meant leaving her daughter for the first time. But the thought of finally receiving help fueled her seven-hour journey.
“I had prayed for so long; we had looked everywhere,” Diarra shared, relief pouring out of her as she waited to board the hospital ship. “We are so happy!”
Because the tumor was rooted in her jaw, part of her jawbone was removed, and a metal plate was inserted to recreate the profile of the jawbone. She would need to heal for up to three months before receiving another surgery to replace the metal with her bone.
When the Africa Mercy departed in 2022, Diarra wasn’t yet ready for a second surgery, so she was asked to return to the Global Mercy in 2023.
The follow-up surgery on the Global Mercy was far less daunting for Diarra. “My family couldn’t believe that I got not one but two surgeries. They were more than happy…they were so happy that they cried,” she said.
Before her first surgery, Diarra had taken to isolation, hoping to shield herself from the curious stares. But after healing, Diarra has bloomed with newfound optimism. No longer burdened by the tumor, she yearns to embark upon a journey of entrepreneurship. The weight of isolation and fear has been lifted off her shoulders. Most importantly, she’s free to look ahead to a healthy future where she can watch her daughter grow up.