Country: Senegal

Age: 31

Surgery: Reconstructive Plastics

Share Coumba’s story

Free, at last
to heal and hug my daughter

Coumba, 31, was recovering on the Africa Mercy after surgery. For two months, she had been away from home and from her little girl, Assatou.

Today, Assatou was coming to visit her mum on the hospital ship. Coumba couldn’t wait.

“She’s going to cry when she sees me.”
“Coumba,” smiled Jody, our volunteer therapist, “I think you’re going to be the one who cries.”

And, sure enough, as soon as Coumba saw Assatou run up to her on the hospital ward, her eyes welled up with tears. She scooped her up and held her tight.

Coumba hugging her daughter when she visited her on the ship
While she had surgery, Coumba had been 300 miles away from her daughter, Assatou.

Seeing her daughter gave Coumba the strength she needed. She was determined to recover from her surgery so she could work on her farm and better care for two-year-old Assatou.

It felt so hard being away from her young child for so long. But ever since she was a child, Coumba has overcome unbearable things for the people she loves.

Coumba and her daughter
It was a joy to see Assatou when she came to visit her mum on our hospital ship.

“I was just trying to save my brother”

The first day we met Coumba, she told us how she became injured. It all started 27 years ago.

“I was just trying to save my brother,” she recalls. “I can never forget it. My little brother was playing by the fire, got too close, and started to burn.”

At just four years old, Coumba bravely rushed in to fight off the flames.

“I saved my brother, but while I was pulling him out, my clothes caught fire. I was entirely burnt on my left side.”
Coumba before surgery
Coumba’s severe burns left her unable to use her left arm and hand for nearly 30 years.

Igniting hope

Sadly, more children still suffer from burns in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world. “As a child, my hand hurt,” Coumba recalls.

Dr Tertius Venter, Mercy Ships volunteer surgeon, operated on Coumba. He explains why these severe burns are so common.

“Burn injuries, and especially contractures, are really a disease of poverty. In rural areas, there is no electricity so people make fires in their houses. So burn injuries can always happen. And when they do, people don’t have access to proper medical care. People just have to see themselves through the wounds and the only way that the body can heal itself is by pulling the wound edges together.”
Coumba with her arm bandaged after her surgery with her surgeon Tertius
Coumba with Reconstructive Plastic Surgeon, Dr Tertius Venter.

Had she been able to get the right medical care much faster, Dr Venter believes she could have regained full control of her arm and hand. It would have been like the fire had never happened, except cosmetic changes to her skin.

But because surgery was unaffordable, Coumba has spent most of her life not being able to use her left arm, or even move her fingers.

So when she heard Mercy Ships was coming to Senegal, she knew she had to take the chance for healing.

Coumba had free plastic reconstructive surgery, followed by months of rehabilitation to release her left arm from her contracture. It was a long road to recovery.

Coumba after her surgery
Coumba had extensive surgery and months of rehabilitation. “I barely felt the pain because I knew I was going to be healed,” she said.

Now, Coumba has reclaimed her independence for the first time in decades.

“I always wanted to do the laundry; now I can. I can draw water from wells now. Before, I could only use one hand. Now, I can use both hands. All I can say is I am happy!”

We share Coumba’s joy. But she should never have had to wait so long for hospital treatment.

Coumba waving her arm in the air with the Africa Mercy in the background
After surgery on the Africa Mercy, Coumba can now freely use both her arms.
Coumba hugging one of the volunteer crew as she said goodbye when leaving the ship
Coumba bids an emotional farewell to Mercy Ships nurses.

Give hope and healing

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