Houleye’s Story:

Khadiatou watches her 5-year-old niece having fun with her friends. The little girl beams as she chases the other kids around, and although she is out of breath, she doesn’t stop. She doesn’t have a care in the world.

It hasn’t always been this way. Khadiatou remembers a time not long ago when all she did was worry about her young niece. Only a few months ago, Houleye had to bear the weight of a tumor nearly half the size of her face.

“The tumor hurt her so she would quit playing and she’d cry,” Khadiatou said.

Sadly, this was normal because life with this tumor was all Houleye had ever known. Having carried it since birth, the young girl had learned to adapt to the physical and emotional implications of her condition.

“It was really tough for us,” Khadiatou said, remembering her niece’s birth. “We had never seen a baby like that before. We didn’t think she would grow up like this.”

Houleye’s condition not only brought judgment from others, but as the tumor grew, her neck mobility began to suffer. Her family worried that there would be even more problems as the mass increased in size, so they desperately searched for a way to remove it.

Unfortunately, having the tumor removed seemed out of reach for Houleye and her family. There were times when her family didn’t have the means to eat three meals a day, so the idea of going to the hospital for an expensive surgery was definitely out of the question.

As time went on and Houleye grew older, the tumor began to take its toll on her emotionally. Not only was it physically uncomfortable, but it also brought her ridicule and shame. The laughs from other children made her cry.

“We used to send her to the store to pick up things, but we don’t anymore because the kids are too mean,” Khadiatou said.

A glimmer of hope arose when a local doctor informed Houleye’s family about a hospital ship coming to Senegal. They didn’t believe it at first, but on a leap of faith, Khadiatou set out with Houleye to find out if it was true — if healing was finally possible.

Despite making the eight-hour journey to Dakar, it wasn’t until Khadiatou was standing on the dock that she finally believed it.

“When I saw the ship, I knew it was a work of God,” Khadiatou said. “We trusted in Him and He never let us down.”

The life-changing surgery onboard the Africa Mercy removed the painful tumor, however Houleye’s confidence began healing before her operation. She spent time at the HOPE Center — our Hospital Out-Patient Extension Center where patients stay before operations and during recovery — and slowly began to come out of her shell. On her first day, the young girl was timid and cautious. But only a few weeks later, Houleye was playing with the other children without ridicule for the first time in her life.

“Before the tumor was removed, I was always worried about her,” Khadiatou said. “Now, I don’t have to be.” 

Houleye now plays with the other children in her village in a new way. A life free from the tumor means that she is free to be like every other carefree little girl.

“We are really happy and thankful for everything Mercy Ships has done for Houleye,” Khadiatou said. “May God pay you back!”