Grace and Gratitude: A Mother’s Faith, A Child’s Gift

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When Leocadie’s son was born, she called him Emmanuel — which means God with us.

Emmanuel was born with a tumor on his tailbone. It was so large, Leocadie could not have a natural birth. The doctors had to perform a C-section.

“I was so sad,” Leocadie said. “I thought he would die. I couldn’t stop crying.”

Still, through her fear, she chose hope.

“We knew his life would come with a lot of troubles,” she said. “We said, ‘Let your name be Emmanuel so God will be with you.’ His name is a testimony.”

Leocadie and her husband, Edwige, believed that if God was not with their son, he would not have survived the birth. They had faith that whatever trials Emmanuel faced because of his condition, God would be with him.

A Show of Faith

Thankfully, one day Edwige heard about a hospital ship that was offering free surgeries in the port. The Africa Mercy, one of two Mercy Ships vessels that delivers free surgical care and medical training to ports in West Africa had docked in their home country.

Edwige and Leocadie took their baby boy to the ship, where they found out he needed to be 3 months old to receive surgery. It felt like a miracle. Emmanuel had turned 3 months old that day.

Not only had they arrived on the exact day when the operation would be possible, but on top of that, Dr. Sherif Emil, a volunteer surgeon who specializes in the condition Emmanuel suffered from, happened to be on board.

When they arrived, Leocadie had to lean into faith even more. Having glaucoma limited her vision, and bringing Emmanuel on board a hospital ship full of strangers made her feel nervous. But she trusted that God would provide and the Mercy Ships volunteers would keep her son safe.

“When Leocadie was getting led around, she couldn’t even see where we were taking her,” remembered Brittany Garrelts, the volunteer general surgery team leader at that time. “And yet, she still trusted us to do this procedure and take care of her kiddo.”

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For Brittany, receiving that trust from Leocadie was a sacred gift. She had no time or opportunity to earn it — but it was given freely.

“It’s just amazing to me that they give us this gift of trust,” Brittany said. “That families come to you in these moments, and reach out and trust you, and let you walk beside them and get this glimpse into their life and their struggles. That’s a huge amount of grace.”

Faith Rewarded

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Just a few days after he first met with the Mercy Ships team, Emmanuel was in the operating theater with Dr. Emil. The surgery took over eight hours. When the tumor was removed, it weighed over 5 pounds, roughly a third of Emmanuel’s body weight.

“His outcome was just a testament to survival, resilience, and blessing,” said Dr. Emil.

When the surgery was complete, the faith Leocadie had placed in the Mercy Ships team was exchanged for an even greater gift.

“We reached out her hand and we placed it on the back of him,” Brittany recalled. “And you could just see her eyes light up, because this trust that she had was rewarded. Because she could feel the results of what had happened. … This tumor was gone.”

Leocadie took her child in her arms, as she had many times. This time, it was different.

“I was speechless,” she said. “I didn’t know what to say. He was so much lighter.”

A Gift of Grace

When Emmanuel first came on board the Africa Mercy, his parents were reserved and apprehensive. They carried the weight of his tumor, and the fear of what it would mean for his life. But the 3-month-old knew nothing of his condition.

Watching his surgery and recovery, volunteer Brittany Garrelts felt she was catching a glimpse of pure grace. A child who couldn’t even comprehend that anything was wrong — given the gift of a new future.

“He has this whole lifetime that’s been restored,” she said. “He won’t know anything, other than a little scar, and stories that his family tells him. … Because he had a surgery when he was just 3 months old.”

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If he hadn’t received surgery, Emmanuel’s tumor would have continued growing. It would have impacted his mobility and his bowel function. And it could have taken his life.

“The irony of these tumors is that over 90% are benign, but when they’re not treated, they (have the potential) to kill the child,” Dr. Emil said.

Now that Emmanuel has the chance to grow up without that burden, Brittany hopes his future will look different.

“I just hope that he can do whatever he wants to do,” she said. “That he doesn’t have to pick a future that’s at all constrained by health care concerns. That he can grow up and be a teenager, and then go to school if he wants to. Pick a profession. Fall in love.”

‘Every Normal Day’

Brittany sees abundant grace in Emmanuel’s story. But she does not believe this gift was undeserved.

“I would argue that the very point of Mercy Ships is that every single one of our patients do deserve to have health,” she said. “That little boy deserves every normal day of the future that he got. Grace came in and provided a way for him to have surgery, and to have the life that he deserves to have.”

Since his surgery, Emmanuel has grown stronger. His family has changed, too. They smile more easily.

“He’s really living up to his name,” Leocadie said. “God has truly been with us!”

As she watches Emmanuel move and grow with newfound ease, this mother now gets to see her faith rewarded every precious, normal day of her son’s life.

This season, we’re celebrating the grace and gratitude of the past year. Because of faithful supporters, partners, and donors like you, more children like Emmanuel will experience the gift of healing. We cannot thank you enough.

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