Breathing Easy — Alya’s Story

It’s been a while since we’ve posted anything, and this story is a good way to pick up again.


Soriba sits on a stool at the end of an empty hospital bed with his arms folded across his green and blue striped shirt. His eyes are fixed on the door. He is waiting for news of Alya, his son, who has been in surgery for nearly three hours to remove a tumor from his small neck.

At only six years old, Alya suffered with a tumor that had grown to the size of a potato inside his neck. “He was a few months away from suffocating from this,” Mercy Ships surgeon Dr. Neil said.

Across the narrow hallway of the hospital ship, Alya’s skilled volunteer surgeon, Dr. Neil, works diligently with OR nurses to finish up a successful surgery. “Incredible,” he says of Alya’s tumor, which had grown around his windpipe. “He was a few months away from suffocating from this.”

In his six short years, the tumor Alya has had on his neck since birth grew from the size of a quarter to the size of a potato. But today, because of Mercy Ships, there remains only a crescent-shaped scar, made up of a couple dozen stiches, where that tumor used to be.

After surgery

There is a sacred moment in the hospital wards of the Africa Mercy when a nurse tells a patient’s family member that the surgery was successful. Delivering this news is more than just giving an update – it is telling someone that their loved one’s life is forever changed. Mercy Ships ward nurse Rachel Greenland smiles as she approaches Alya’s father. “The surgery went very well,” she says. Soriba’s eyes flutter between Rachel and the translator as the message is relayed in his language, Susu.

“Everything went well. He hasn’t woken up yet, but he will soon,” Rachel says.

Soriba, Alya’s father, awaits the news of his son’s surgery in the ward.

Sitting up a little straighter now, Soriba looks around the room. He smiles and in Susu announces to the ward, “My mind is free, my heart is happy!”

Another patient chimes in from a bed nearby, lifting his head to get a better view, as he says, “Let God bring these kinds of people every year in this country!”

“Amen!” says Soriba.

What had been hushed mumbles quickly turns to chatter from the surrounding patients and caregivers. “May God help them to bring healing for other illnesses we have here,” says a woman in the bed behind Soriba.

Soriba turns and holds up his hands, adding, “Amen. May there be healing for all.”

Before surgery, Alya was teased by his friends for the lump on his neck. He was also out of breath and tired.

Four days later, a squirmy Alya sits on his knees at the end of his hospital bed, pulling on his father’s shirt. He is no longer the little boy who can’t catch his breath. He is no longer exhausted from his hindered breathing.

Alya proudly wears a red star sticker on the middle of his forehead and a huge smile on his face. Next to him, his father eyes the door – this time for a different reason.  Today, Alya finally gets to go home, and they are anxious to leave.

“Without this opportunity, we don’t have the means for surgery,” Soriba says. “Now I am happy; may you come every year.”

Written by Catherine Murphy

Edited by Nancy Predaina

Photos by Paul Millgate and Bright Effowe


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