Isatu’s husband and four children think that she is very beautiful, but for 17 years she has been plagued by whispers that say otherwise.
When she was 10 years old, Isatu’s jaw began swelling, causing her to lose several teeth. Despite efforts to reduce the swelling, a large tumour continued to grow, dominating her face and her life.
“When I’m walking, I cover my face because when people see me they talk,” Isatu said. “They make fun of me. So when they talk, I’m ashamed. They make me cry.”
While the mockery Isatu faced was distressing to the young mother, the tumour was slowly becoming more than just a social stigma. It was life-threatening.
“[Tumours like Isatu’s] are usually benign,” Dr Gary Parker, the head maxillofacial surgeon onboard the Africa Mercy said. “They’re not cancerous, but you can die. You can suffocate to death because the tumour pushes your tongue back into your throat until you can no longer keep your airway open.”
Faced with the fear that her burden would one day take her life, Isatu searched for a solution. One day, Isatu heard about a hospital ship offering surgeries in Conakry, Guinea and made the journey from Sierra Leone with her sister-in-law and infant son in search of healing.
Her journey was long and arduous, but definitely worth it. After meeting with the patient selection team, Isatu was approved for surgery onboard the Africa Mercy to remove the tumour from her face. Due to the size and placement of the tumour, Isatu would undergo several surgeries that would remove the tumour, rebuild her jaw and smooth out her skin.
The first surgery, performed by Dr Parker, lasted five hours before Isatu was sent to the wards for recovery. While Isatu recovered, the volunteer nurses stayed by her side and helped care for her infant son. Several days after her surgery, Isatu’s nurse began to change the bandage. It was a slow, gentle process and somewhat routine until the nurse handed Isatu a mirror.
As Isatu looked at her reflection, her expression was in awe — it was as if she could see into a whole new future! And despite the swelling from the surgery, her smile shone through.
“To see that from someone who walked in so quiet and timid and afraid, who is now fully herself, it’s like seeing a new person be born,” Blaire Scmaleberg, the volunteer nurse who worked with Isatu, said.
Today, Isatu is transformed. Now she is confident and knows that her beauty shows both inside and out — and her smile continues to shine for all to see. But, more than that, she knows that she will be there for her family as they grow and flourish.
Will you give a gift today to save more lives, like Isatu’s?