Father is first patient in Sierra Leone to receive life changing surgery onboard the Global Mercy

Emmanuel before surgery, showing the tumour that had been growing on his neck and lower jaw

Father is first patient in Sierra Leone to receive life changing surgery onboard the Global Mercy

UK anaesthetists volunteer in transformational surgery

A 43-year-old man who feared he would have to live with a tumour on his face for life was the first patient to receive life-changing surgery onboard the Global Mercy in Sierra Leone.

Two UK anaesthetists were part of the global team who carried out the transformational surgery on the ship, which is docked in the Port of Freetown for the next 10 months.

Father-of-one, Emmanuel, thought the small lump in his mouth was just toothache or a cold sore when he discovered it four years ago. But it continued to grow bigger on his lower face and medication did not stop it continuing to enlarge.

He had resigned himself to living with the tumour forever but he constantly worried that it would burst and complicate his health.

Emmanuel looks up at the ship as he walks up the gangway
The first group of patients being admitted in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

On Tuesday 12th September, the Sierra Leonean who lives in Freetown became the first person to receive one of more than 2,350 surgeries planned for the Global Mercy’s 10-month stay in Freetown.

His anaesthetic care was the responsibility of Dr Sarah Kwok from London, who is also Mercy Ships’ Chief Medical Officer, and Dr Graham White from Glasgow, who is volunteering for three months after previously volunteering to care for patients in Cameroon, Senegal and Liberia. Nurse volunteer Bev Hanson from Cornwall, also assisted in the operating theatre.

Sarah Kwok, Anesthesia Supervisor
Graham White, Anesthesia Provider

Emmanuel, who has kept the surgery a secret from both his son and father to surprise them after in person, said:

“I am so happy to be heading to the ship today. This is one of the happiest days of my life.”

His aunt said:

“After surgery I hope he can come back and become a witness for what is possible.”

Currently there are no fully certified maxillofacial specialist surgeons practising in-country for the population of 8.4 million people, according to Dr Mustapha Kabba, Deputy Chief Medical Officer – Clinical Services for Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

Dr Kabba said:

“We have primary healthcare systems that are up and running, but we really need specialised people.”

He expressed his gratitude for Mercy Ships’ support with difficult surgeries of this nature.

International Chief Medical Officer, American Dr Mark Shrime and Swiss oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr Didier-David Malis performed the surgery, with Dr Shrime taking the lead. They were supported by a multinational team of professionals, who volunteered their time and expertise on our unique hospital ship.

Australian volunteer Hospital Director Keren Fuhrmeister said:

“The first day of surgery for us is the one we’ve all been waiting for, because it shows the start of our journey here.

We are not only providing the surgeries that our patients need, but we want to partner with the country of Sierra Leone to provide mentoring, training, and a platform where we can best serve our patients and strengthen their health system.”

This is the sixth time a Mercy Ship has been in Sierra Leone since 1992. This time, the purpose-built Global Mercy, which only began full operations this year, will focus on bringing hope and healing through the following surgical specialties: Maxillofacial, General, Pediatric Specialized General, Orthopedic, Reconstructive Plastics, and Ophthalmology.

The Global Mercy is not just a hospital but also a floating training center, that will facilitate hundreds of hours of training in the coming ten months whilst docked in Freetown. Volunteer professionals onboard, in collaboration with in-country partners, plan to train more than 200 healthcare professionals from Sierra Leone in a range of surgical education courses.

Over the course of five previous field services, Mercy Ships has partnered closely with Sierra Leone’s government to provide safe, free surgeries to a total of 9,548 patients.