A Smile Stolen.
Country | Guinea
Age | 10
Surgery | Maxillofacial
Houssainatou’s childhood was defined by a painful tumor that had grown steadily in her mouth since she was a toddler. By the time she was 8 years old, it protruded so severely that she couldn’t even smile.
Now ten years old, Houssainatou lives in a town in the highlands of Guinea with her parents and her four siblings. Ever since she was a toddler, she suffered from a painful facial tumor that protruded from her mouth.
Houssainatou’s father, Souleymane, is a maize farmer with little income. He worked hard to protect her from the fear he felt about her condition so that she could have a happy childhood — but for him, the tumor filled every day with worry. He was afraid he would have to watch his daughter struggle and die at an early age.
“We have no money,” her father said. “The village clinic can’t help her. We can’t afford the kind of surgery she needs. We kept praying, and worrying, and looking for help.”
Two years ago, the family decided to keep Houssainatou home from school because of her health. Instead of being able to play and learn with other children, she would stay home with her mother to help cook and clean the house.
Then, one day, a relative living in the port city of Conakry told Souleymane about Mercy Ships. He brought his daughter for screening and soon she was accepted for life-changing surgery onboard the Africa Mercy.
When the time came for them to walk up the gangway to the ship, Souleymane called himself “the happiest man in the world.” Houssainatou’s bravery had never shone brighter — as she explored the place that would be her home for the next two weeks, a volunteer crewmember asked her how she felt about her upcoming surgery. “I’m not nervous… I’ll be asleep through it all anyway,” she said.
And what a transformation while she ‘slept’! After just one day — and a four-hour surgery — Houssainatou was down in the wards of the Africa Mercy, getting ready to see herself in a mirror, tumor-free for the first time in her young life.
The sight made Souleymane exuberant with joy and gratitude. “I cannot believe it. She is so beautiful!” he exclaimed. “I am so happy and so excited to bring her home to see the family.”
After several post-op follow up appointments, Houssainatou was healed — happier and healthier than she’d ever been. As the two got ready to leave the ship and return home to their family, Souleymane reflected on what her surgery has meant to them.
“My heart is free now. The fear is gone,” he said. “I used to spend every day afraid she would die young, but now I will spend my time helping her have a future. I want her to become a doctor so she can help people the way she herself has been helped.”