Martha Jawaneh

Martha is two personalities in one ten-year-old body – a determined dynamo held back by extremely bowed legs, and a shy little girl who has a heart for others. She loves school and is ranked number one in her third-grade class of 78 students. English is her favorite subject, and she takes every opportunity to read stories in English. She is a very conscientious child who always tries to do her best.

Martha and the teddy bear she received upon admitance for surgery

A long time ago, Martha decided on her life’s goal.  “I want to be a lawyer. I want to speak for people,” she says.

Her uncle confirmed her choice, saying, “She’s said this since she was tiny.  She wants to be a lawyer because she’s seen many people at a disadvantage, and she wants to defend them.”

But Martha has two big strikes against her – she was born with extremely bowed legs that make walking difficult and painful, and she lives in poverty in a small village far from the capital city of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Her education is intermittent because school is not free and her father is often jobless. Yet, she clings to her dream.

Martha's pre-op photo

Her bowed legs present a daily struggle, which is made worse by her classmates’ laughter and derision.  In spite of this ridicule, Martha maintains a positive attitude and greets everyone with a smile.

Martha’s parents took her to a doctor in Guinea, but he only gave her medicine that did not help at all.  Then a friend told Martha’s mother that a hospital ship called the Africa Mercywould arrive in Sierra Leone in a couple of months. Maybe this time Martha would find the help she so desperately needed.

Martha's pre-op photo #2

Martha was excited when she was accepted for surgery after the screening, although she was also a little afraid to face the operation. She needn’t have worried.  Mercy Ships volunteer surgeon, Dr. Peter Stevens, is a well-known orthopedic expert.  In fact, he is the inventor of the eight-Plate, a guided growth system that harnesses the power of natural growth to correct deformed legs as they grow. Dr. Stevens installed the eight-Plate device in both of Martha’s legs without invasive surgery. The procedure requires no cast, allows for immediate weight-bearing and provides for rapid post-operative healing.

Martha was anxious to perform well during the therapy sessions.  She was so cooperative, the nurses declared her the “star of therapy.”

Martha enjoyed her experience on the hospital ship.  She made many friends and even enjoyed making bracelets and coloring as she recovered in the ward.

Now Martha is focused once again on her future.  “I’m excited to go back to school!” she declared with a grin.

Martha, her mother and uncle prior to leaving the Africa Mercy

Story by Elaine B. Winn
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Liz Cantu and Tom Bradley


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