A Girl Who Lights Up a Room

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Naserry was always a joyful child, the kind of girl who would light up a room just by entering it. According to her Aunt Salamatu, she always had something to share: “She likes to talk!”

Salamatu has high hopes for her niece, who dreams of becoming a lawyer one day. And despite the pains that Naserry and her family have faced over the last few years, Salamatu refused to stop dreaming big for the young vibrant girl.

Naserry’s struggles began at 5 years old when she fell into a cooking fire, leaving her with severe burns and limited use of her right elbow, wrist, and pinky.

The burns eventually became tight scars, marring her arm and body, leaving her struggling with everyday tasks like attending school. Other students would tease her for having just one fully functioning hand, although Salamatu contended that Naserry could do more with one hand than they could with two. Outside of the classroom, Naserry felt the implications of looking different. She had trouble making friends and would hide her arm behind her back or a bookbag to avoid teasing.

“At lunch, I don’t go out to play,” she shared.

Had Naserry been able to access surgical care immediately following the accident, the outcome would have been different. In fact, she would likely never have needed surgery at all. But in their home country of Sierra Leone, where 75% of the population has insufficient access to surgical care, and estimates of unmet surgical needs reach more than 90%, her family couldn’t get Naserry the treatment that she needed. Instead, without proper care and physiotherapy, she spent the next nine years with limited use of her dominant arm.

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Yet despite these tremendous challenges, Naserry and her family refused to give up.

“I want her to continue her education,” said Salamatu, who was determined to do whatever it took to see healing for her niece. She believed it was possible. After all, she had seen a neighbor’s hand healed from a similar condition before when the Africa Mercy visited Sierra Leone in 2011.

In an effort to give Naserry the best chance possible, she decided to move the young girl into her home in Freetown, where they waited faithfully for the ship to return.

In 2023, their hope was fulfilled. Mercy Ships returned with a new floating hospital, the Global Mercy — and Naserry was soon on board!

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In the operating room on board, it took just two hours for the reconstructive plastics surgical team to repair Naserry’s scars, known as burn contractures. Regaining her mobility would take a further two months of challenging physical therapy, during which time Naserry dreamed about the life ahead of her and celebrated her newfound confidence.

“People used to laugh at me,” she said. “No more! I will be excited when I get home.”

Naserry’s joy was contagious to everyone around her, reminding those like Dr. Gracious Sankulani, a surgeon from Malawi being mentored on board, of the life-changing value of safe surgery. Naserry was the very first patient he treated on board.

“You can see the brightness of her face. How she’s doing now, it’s quite fascinating. You can see the impact,” the surgeon shared. “We are expecting a good quality of life to be restored and hoping her life to be better now.”

Before leaving the Global Mercy, Naserry marveled at her newfound ability to move her right arm freely for the first time in nearly a decade: “Sometimes, I even ask myself if I’m in a dream, but I know I’m not dreaming. It’s reality.”

Now fully healed, Naserry is back at home and in school — and one can only imagine how brightly she’s continuing to light up every room.