New Mercies: Umu

Surgery that Brought Peace

This is the month of Advent when we reflect on Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. We will be sharing stories of God’s miracles that have changed the lives of four very special people. In December you will get to hear about the lives that have been transformed by the love of Jesus, shown through Mercy Ships volunteers.

This week we get to hear Umu’s story that brought PEACE. Umu was born with a large tumor on the side of her face and neck that only grew bigger as she did. Her mother’s worry grew as well, fearing that the tumor would one day cut off Umu’s airway.

Umu’s family searched for help, but there was not even one maxillofacial surgeon in Sierra Leone who could help her. The stress and fear increased daily, until the Africa Mercy arrived with skilled surgeons on board who could offer Umu a free surgery. Peace came to Umu’s family as her tumor was removed, as well as the burden of worry and fear they all carried. 

In this episode, you will hear about Umu’s brilliant personality, the hopelessness of her situation without access to surgical care, and the gift of Mercy Ships. Looking for a way to join our mission of bringing hope and healing? Partner with us through a giftvolunteering with us, or by joining us in prayer.

New Mercies Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the New Mercies, a podcast by Mercy Ships where we’ll take you behind the scenes and on board our incredible hospital ships that are transforming lives all over the world. We invite you to join us each week to be inspired and encouraged by stories of life-changing hope and healing. I’m your host, Raeanne Newquist, and this is New Mercies.

This week our holiday story of hope and healing is about a little girl, with a not-so-little smile.

Have you ever met someone whose eyes dance when they talk? That’s the very first thing everyone notices when they encounter 3-year-old Umu. Her aunt, Fatmata, has always been amazed by Umu’s effortless ability to make friends, regardless of where she goes. She’s a very brave girl. She’s intelligent. She’s a fast learner.

This contagious joy is somewhat of a surprise because Umu’s little life has been marked by a tumor. Her birth came with an unexpected twist as she entered the world with a benign tumor growing from the side of her face and neck. This was a shock to her mother, Yei, who’d had no reason to expect anything other than a healthy baby girl. Seeing her firstborn with the growth was utterly devastating. Yei was afraid to look closely at her new baby, knowing that something was not right.

It didn’t take long for the painful reality of Umu’s condition to set in. While Yei was pregnant, her aunt Rebecca had requested that the baby be named after her, hoping to finally have a namesake of her own.

It all changed when Rebecca laid eyes on Umu. She took back her request, telling Yei she no longer wanted Umu as her namesake. Yei was devastated and hurt by this.

It wasn’t just family members and close friends that commented on Umu’s tumor. Strangers reacted, too. Out on walks, children would run away from her because they were afraid of the tumor. People asked so many questions about what was wrong with Umu, but Yei didn’t know or have any answers.

Umu’s family tried all different kinds of remedies. They sampled traditional herbal medicines. They fasted for seven days and nights. They looked into surgical options, but there wasn’t a single maxillofacial surgeon in their country of Sierra Leone. They were told their best bet was traveling abroad for Umu’s complicated surgery. But the cost of the travel and medical care was way too high for the family of farmers to afford.

Umu kept growing, but so did her tumor. While her condition wasn’t yet life-threatening, the tumor was growing dangerously close to her airway. Which meant that her risk of suffocation was high with the continued growth of the tumor.

At her young age, Umu remained blissfully unaware of the glances and stares of others, so her confidence and social nature were unaffected. But she couldn’t escape the physical burden of her tumor. “Can’t we just get a knife and cut it off? It’s so heavy,” she’d ask her mother.

During these years, Umu was never alone. Although hope waned, her family was always by her side. She received regular care at the Children’s Hospital in Freetown, where she was treated by the kind Dr. Bah.

Eventually, through the help of a network of family, friends, and even strangers, Umu heard about Mercy Ships.

So with her mother and her aunt, she traveled to the Africa Mercy, where she was told she could receive free surgery to remove her tumor. There was no time to waste when it came to Umu’s surgery. They decided to operate on Umu quickly, because they thought that waiting any longer would have led to some risks that would make her surgery even more complex.

After trying and failing to receive treatment so many times before, the news brought a fresh wave of joy to Umu’s family.

Her aunt, Fatmata, always thought Umu was beautiful, but felt that after this surgery, she would be even more beautiful. She was ready to have a new story to tell of how her niece’s life had been transformed.

Getting an appointment for surgery brought a lot of relief – but the journey wasn’t over yet. First, Umu had to go through the operation itself. Watching her daughter get wheeled away to the operating room was a terrifying moment for Yei. She feared that her baby girl might die and just that thought was overwhelming for her.

But then when she saw Umu again and the surgery was successful, Yei cried tears of joy. A huge burden had been lifted from her shoulders.

After Umu had recovered on board, the family returned to their home and started their new normal. She has continued receiving follow-up care at the Children’s Hospital to ensure she stays healthy. Without the burden of her tumor, Umu has found newfound freedom as she plays and explores without judgment. She started school for the first time, just like her peers. Able to eat and drink more easily than before, her health has skyrocketed as she grows taller and stronger day by day.

“Life has been amazing since the operation was done,” shared Fatmata. “We were thinking that when the operation was done, maybe it’s going to hurt again, but that didn’t happen. Now, when I take a walk with her, all the people would be like, ‘Oh, she is beautiful.’”

Instead of staying at home, Umu is hard to track down because she loves to be outside, playing with her neighbors until it’s time for bed.

With fear over her health put to rest, the family has found peace for the first time in years. Now, they can look ahead to the future with renewed hope, knowing that Umu can become whoever she wants to be.

Fatmata dreams she’ll become a nurse and help other kids in the future. Yei wants her to keep studying and not be afraid to share her story with others. No matter what she grows up to do, the future holds an amazing something for Umu.

Living with the burden of fear that your child might not have a full life because of a tumor is something few of us can relate to. However, we know what it is like to worry for a loved one, a friend, or over our own health concerns. Fear and worry can rob us of peace.

This is the second week of Advent when we focus on Peace. Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace and he offers peace to all who but their trust in him.

In Isaiah 26:3 says You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

For many of our patients and their families, coming on board our ships is a very scary thing. The whole environment is unknown and unfamiliar. The nurses and doctors don’t speak their language and often times don’t look like them. But their fears are quickly met with the love of Jesus they receive from these nurses and doctors and soon peace washes over them.

Umu’s mother and aunt encountered that peace on board and now get to continue to walk in peace as Umu is healed.

May you too know the peace of Jesus this Christmas season.For more information about Mercy Ships, go to, and to keep up with the guests and stories on New Mercies, follow us on Instagram at NewMerciesPodcast.