Baby Junior had been born with a cleft lip and palate that made it impossible for him to nurse properly. At three months he weighed just 4 pounds and 4 ounces – less than when he was born! His skin was paper-thin and his body remarkably tiny.
Francoise was helpless as her baby boy became thinner and weaker, despite all her efforts! “I didn’t understand why it was happening or what I could do to help him. I couldn’t breastfeed him properly. No matter what we did, he kept losing weight,” said Francoise, her eyes reflecting her weariness and fear. “We were so scared… we thought he would die.”
The hungry baby cried all night, so Francoise stayed up, rocking her tiny baby through the long nights with only the company of a kerosene lamp.
Mercy Ships medical staff immediately recognised that Baby Junior’s condition was critical. They brought him onboard the Africa Mercy immediately, before the hospital was even officially opened, so that they could monitor his condition and feed him through a nose-to-stomach tube.
“The problem when they’re that small and weak is that they find it really difficult to suck. We fed him with a syringe and eventually got him to a special bottle made for babies with cleft lip and palate,” said Lee-Anne Borrow James, Infant Feeding Program dietician.
It was touch-and-go for a few days, but then the courageous little boy began to turn the corner and his condition began to improve.
Gradually, as the weeks passed, Baby Junior began to visibly change. His formerly gaunt face was replaced by round cheeks. His hair grew thick and healthy. His formerly listless eyes were now glowing and content. Junior was the only one being transformed: hope bloomed in Francoise’s heart as she watched her baby slowly growing stronger
Many mothers struggle to believe that their baby’s condition is not their fault. That it is something that occurred naturally and can be fixed. It took time for Francoise to trust the affirming words of the Mercy Ships dietician team. “It’s been amazing to watch over time how she’s worked very hard for her baby. She’s determined. She fiercely knows what she wants and what she needs to do,” said Lee-Anne.
Three months later, weighing a whopping 14 pounds 1 ounce, Junior was three times the baby he was when he first arrived. He was once again carried up the gangway – this time, for a cleft lip repair that would restore his future and reward his mother’s courageous hope.
Francoise’s heart was overflowing with joy and gratitude! “When I go back home, people will say, “Look! This is not your baby. You’ve gone to the city and exchanged your baby!”” she cried.
“His cleft palate repair was the culmination of our team’s efforts,” said Janet Stucky, the volunteer Clinical Dietician and Infant Feeding Coordinator. “Baby Junior had a successful surgery, which will change his life forever.”
``I'm so thankful for all the love and care here,” said Francoise. “Before, I was walking with a dead corpse, but the Lord has changed the life of Junior and given him a new one!”
Junior’s journey with Mercy Ships was complete. Now weighing almost 20 lbs, no one could recognize the gaunt baby they’d first seen.
He was one of the first patients up the gangway in Cameroon and was also among the last to receive surgery in the final weeks before the hospital closed. Loved by the crew, Junior was a reminder to every one of the transforming difference hope and healing can make.
Junior came to the Africa Mercy close to starvation, but he’s leaving the ship as a little boy with his whole life ahead of him.
“I’m so thankful for all the love and care here,” said Francoise. “Before, I was walking with a dead corpse, but the Lord has changed the life of Junior and given him a new one!”
And now, Baby Junior has reached a milestone his mother thought she would never see: his first birthday!