For 17 years, Isatu has been plagued by the whispers of her community who seem to only see the tumor on her face. When she was ten years old, her jaw began swelling, causing her to lose several teeth and resulting in a large tumor that dominated her face and her life.
“When I’m walking, I cover my face because when people see me they talk,” Isatu said. “They make fun of me. So when they talk, I’m ashamed. They make me cry.”
While the mockery Isatu faced was disheartening, the tumor was slowly becoming more than just a social stigma. It was becoming life-threatening. Faced with the fear that her burden could eventually take her life, Isatu searched for a solution. One day, Isatu heard about a hospital ship offering surgeries in Conakry, Guinea and made the journey from Sierra Leone with her sister in law and infant son in search of healing.
After meeting with the screening team, Isatu was approved for surgery onboard the Africa Mercy to remove the tumor from her face. Due to the size and placement of the tumor, Isatu would undergo several surgeries that would remove the tumor, rebuild her jaw, and smooth out her skin.
The first surgery lasted five hours before Isatu was sent to the wards for recovery. While Isatu recovered, the volunteer nurses stayed by her side and helped care for her infant son. Several days after her surgery, Isatu’s nurse began to change the bandage. It was a slow, gentle process and somewhat routine until the nurse handed Isatu a mirror.
As Isatu looked at her reflection, her expression was in awe — it was as if she could see into a whole new future! And despite the swelling from the surgery, her smile shone through.
Today, Isatu is able to confidently walk the streets of her neighborhood knowing that her beauty shows both inside and out — and her smile continues to shine for all to see.