Umu Fofanah

Umu during the admission process.

Umu sat next to her mother in the shade of the awning at the admissions tent. A quiet and modest 18-year-old, she had a very large tumor that expanded her chin, making it difficult to talk and leaving her bottom teeth in disarray. It had started four years before as a toothache, but then it grew rapidly, disfiguring her face and disrupting her life. She had been a relay racer on her school’s running team and played defense on the football team until verbal abuse from classmates became so degrading that she dropped out of school.
Her Aunt Fatmata had come to a Mercy Ships screening, hoping to find relief for her own health problem. But in the process, she met people with facial tumors similar to Umu’s. They were waiting for appointments for surgical repair. She knew her niece was afraid to go out because people laughed at her. So, she went to Guinea immediately to get Umu and her mother and brought them to a screening.

Grateful to have this opportunity, Umu and her mother sat in front of the admissions nurse, who offered encouragement while explaining the admission process. With all the questions answered, measurements taken, and the medical forms completed, she was ushered into a hospital ward in the middle of the afternoon. A bit hesitant and withdrawn, it took a while for her to become accustomed to her new surroundings. The fact that she was French-speaking added to her feeling of isolation. But the nursing staff soon made her feel welcome, and the patients in the ward treated her with understanding. When she discovered a day-worker who spoke French, she relaxed a bit.

Umu just before going aboard the Africa Mercy.

The surgery went smoothly. When she awoke in her hospital bed, her hand could feel the growth was gone. One look in the mirror brought a huge smile as she jubilantly exclaimed, “I am beautiful, so beautiful!”

The shy and retiring teen had bloomed into a lovely flower. The surgery had released a fountain of bliss that bubbled over, changing her demeanor into one of confidence and joy. She smiled at everyone around her.

Umu displays her release documents before going home.

After a few days of recovery and some post-operative care, Umu was released to begin her life again. “I am so happy to come here and do a surgery. I am so happy Fatmata brought me here,” she said with a warm smile. “If not for the ship, I would never have had a surgery,”

She is anxious to return to school to complete her education. “I want to be a doctor someday and come back to volunteer on the Mercy Ship,” she said.

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


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