Country: Senegal

Age: 5

Surgery: Orthopaedic

Share Malang’s story

Step into a new life

“You are strong,” Sadio murmurs gently to his son. These words give Malang the strength he needs to push through the pain and learn to walk again.

Malang bravely steps forward with his now straight legs, his knuckles gripping tightly around the walking bars in rehab. Seeing his recovery makes his dad well up with pride.

Malang during his physical therapy sessions, learning how to walk again, with his father encouraging him close by
“You are strong,” Sadio gently whispers to his son as he learns to walk again onboard the Global Mercy.

Before coming to this hospital ship, Sadio had watched his son painfully struggle to walk, month after month, year after year.

So now, in these hours of rehab, it touched his heart to see Malang put all his strength into these steps. A new life was opening up for him.

You can only imagine how much this means to his dad. When Malang was born, Sadio held his only son in his arms. He dreamed of playing football with him when he was older.

But when Malang turned two, Sadio’s dream turned into a living nightmare. Unlike other children his age, Malang struggled to walk. His legs began to curve outwards.

“I started worrying about his legs,” recalls Sadio. “At that time, I didn't know how bad it would become.”

As he grew older, things only got worse.

“It was tough for him to walk. I was very sad when I saw Malang walking like that. Sometimes his friends would run and leave him behind, and he'd cry.”

With every step, Malang was in pain. The pain of walking and even sitting down with his bowed legs. And the pain of being left out by his friends. At five years old, Malang felt alone and ashamed. Why don’t they stop laughing at me? Is it my fault? Have I done something wrong?

Sadio felt his son’s pain as his own. And he feared for his future. Like any loving parent would, Sadio wanted to protect him. He was determined to find him the medical help he needed.

“I worked hard to help Malang get his surgery, but I couldn’t afford it. If he wasn’t healed, I knew it would cause him more suffering.”

Tragically, millions of families like Malang’s can’t access safe surgery for their loved ones.

In Senegal – a nation of more than 16 million people – there are no known children’s orthopaedic surgeons.

Left untreated, severe bone conditions like Malang’s only get worse over time. Young people are robbed of their childhoods. And parents like Sadio are plunged into debt by the cost of hospital care, and left with a lifetime of worry for their child.

One last ray of hope arrived when our hospital ship, the Global Mercy, sailed to Senegal.

When Malang first came to the Global Mercy, his dad carried him in his arms. Malang clung on tightly to his shoulders, scared of the towering ship before him.

One of the first people to greet him was Mame Birame Sy. A faithful, joyful member of our rehab team, Mame Birame Sy cares for many patients who she says are “alive without a life” when they first come onboard.

She gave the shy boy a bright blue balloon. Suddenly, he smiled. At that moment, he knew he’d be safe and looked after here.

Malang soon couldn’t wait for his surgery, as he chatted and laughed with the volunteers on the ward.

Dr Rachel Buckingham, a children’s orthopaedic surgeon and volunteer with Mercy Ships, performed Malang’s operation. Dr Buckingham knew that the five-year-old’s bowed legs were just the beginning.

“It would have become worse over time,” she said. “He would have been severely limited in his walking ability. He himself will probably never realise how bad his deformity would have got had he not had surgery.”

When Malang woke up from surgery, he saw his dad smiling at him. Both of his legs were healing in a plaster cast – and they hurt.

Over the coming days and weeks, Malang bravely builds up his strength. He makes friends with boys and girls on the veranda who have had surgery too. For the first time in his life, he feels loved and accepted for who he is.

Now it’s time to go home. Malang walks proudly down the gangway. He is not the same child he was before. He’s more confident, more daring, more joyful. He can’t wait to show his now straight legs to his friends.

Sadio is full of hope for his son’s future. He’ll be able to run around with his friends and go to school. He’ll be able to get a job, and start his own family one day. “It touches my heart so deeply.”

Sadio puts his arms round Malang’s shoulders as they head home together. They have so many bright days ahead. But for now, this dad and son have some football practice to catch up on.