Samba worked as a cattle farmer in rural Senegal, where he faced discrimination that kept him from moving into a more lucrative career. A widower devoted to his four children, he lived without savings or access to a hospital that could heal is condition.
Over the years, he had grown used to his cleft lip drawing unwanted attention. Physical attacks were so commonplace that Samba couldn’t guess how often they had happened.
“What is it like to walk around and be worried about how people will respond to your face? What sort of burden is that?” wondered Dr. David Chong, the volunteer surgeon from Australia who would later operate on Samba.
Eventually, the pandemic allowed Samba to hide his lips behind a mask. He conveyed his smile through a warm handshake and the crow’s feet around his eyes — this was the Samba who introduced himself on the Global Mercy when he came on board to receive free surgery.
“You can see the pain in his eyes from a lot of experiences he’s had in his life, but what particularly struck me about him was that he had this intrinsic sense of self-worth,” Dr. Chong said. “He was so engaging. He wanted to tell you a story.”
For Samba, being on board the Global Mercy was a unique experience. Samba was able to take a full tour, complete with his first-ever elevator ride. On the upper deck of the hospital ship, Samba looked upon his nation’s capital with a new perspective and wept.
While waiting for surgery, Samba reflected on his journey and recounted a lifetime of teasing and disappointment: “I’ve missed a lot in life.”
On the morning of Samba’s life-changing surgery, Dr. Chong took a moment to share an important message, saying, “We can see your heart. No matter how you look, you are a very good man.”
Samba had only heard the opposite for 56 years, but this day was different.
“I never thought that one day, my lips would be repaired,” Samba said. But that day had come.
“Your soul is strong and special, and it is finally time,” Dr. Chong told Samba. “I had to fly over 24 hours here, and if it was just to meet you and do this surgery, then it was well worth it.”
Samba was solemn as Dr. Chong outlined the operation. A national crewmember named Bocar Sy reassured Samba in their shared language of Pulaar that he would be healed.
“I am crying because I am very joyful,” Samba clarified. “Everything is going to be all right, and I can’t thank you enough for that.”
The next day, Samba sat in his hospital bed with newfound dignity, crying tears of joy whenever he looked in the mirror. He could not believe his eyes.
Samba was sent home from the floating hospital a few weeks after his surgery. Dr. Chong speculated, “He’s already got such a vibrant personality. He’s going to make sure he’s caught up on a lot of lost time.”
Once he had been reunited with his family, Samba declared, “I am the happiest person.”