Mame Diarra

Country: Senegal

Age: 6 months

Surgery: Cleft Lip Repair

Share Mame Diarra’s story

The true cost of a £40 bottle

Mame Diarra’s smile is precious. It’s the kind of smile that lifts up your heart. This bright baby reaches out her little fingers to grip around the nurse’s hand. You can see something so special about she interacts with the nurses. She must know she’s in safe and caring hands.

When she grows up, Mame Diarra won’t remember her time on our floating hospital. But her mum will never forget the love and care she was shown on the ship.

“It gave me so much joy because we saw her whole journey from the very beginning,” recalls Cobie, Mercy Ships pre-op nurse. “Her mum was so grateful for everything that we did.``

Her mum Ndiate will always be grateful. Because without Mercy Ships, and our caring volunteers on board, her baby’s life was at risk.

A fight for her life

Mame Diarra was born with a double cleft lip in Senegal. She couldn’t latch to breastfeed, and she also couldn’t suck from a baby bottle.

At home, Ndiate did everything she could to feed her baby. She dipped a spoon into a cracked teacup of milk. Mame Diarra tried to drink, but her cleft stopped her. She coughed and spluttered, and milk spilled out of her nose. Her mum tried again – but her baby girl cried hungrily, desperately.

Without enough milk, Mame Diarra was losing weight at an alarming rate. Ndiate felt her baby’s hunger every minute of every day.

Bring free surgery to babies like Mame Diarra

This fearful mum knew her baby needed more nutrients. At her local hospital, doctors recommended a special kind of bottle for cleft babies. But there was only one pharmacy in the whole of Senegal that sold these bottles, at an extortionate £40 each.

Ndiate journeyed for hours to the pharmacy in Dakar, holding her newborn in her arms. Holding onto hope.

``When we came to the pharmacy, the stock was finished,`` she told us. ``They did not have any bottles left, so we had to wait for one month.``

Ndiate had travelled for over 300km – about the distance from London to York – to find one single bottle. She had to borrow money to pay for transport all the way there. But it was all for nothing. Her heart broke that day.

But because of you, Ndiate wasn’t alone. She found the medical help that her baby urgently needed.

“I told her not to give up”

While Ndiate was in Dakar, she heard of Mercy Ships. She brought her three-month-old Mame Diarra in, fearing the worst. In countries like Senegal, malnutrition can leave infants at risk to diseases like malaria. Thanks to you, her baby was in safe hands.

Mercy Ships volunteers placed her on the scales in the nutritional tent. This tiny baby weighed only 10 pounds. She was so severely malnourished that her clothes were hanging off her. So she needed emergency feeding to get her weight up, before she was well enough for surgery.

Dietician Mathe supported her during her first few months, making up her special bottles of infant formula.

“Every day, I used to go to the wards to see her, and play with her, and try to talk to her mum – I told her that it was all going to be OK, just don’t give up.”

Three months later, Mame Diarra was well enough for surgery. With healing hands and caring hearts, our volunteer surgeons operated to save this baby girl’s life.

After her operation, you could see the change in Mame Diarra. Her precious smile. Her eyes gleaming with joy. And you can see her mum’s pride and joy in all that her brave little warrior had come through.

Maybe you know a child in your family or community who was born with a cleft lip. In the UK, three babies are born with a cleft, every day. If you do, you’ll know how hard it can be for the child growing up, and how hard it can be for their parents.

It’s incredible what many cleft families overcome. These days, thankfully, a child born with a cleft lip in the UK will have support from specialist centres in hospitals.

But children like Mame Diarra born with a cleft lip in sub-Saharan Africa have next to no medical care.

In countries like Senegal, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, where there is only one doctor per 10,000 people, this very treatable condition can become life-threatening.

That’s why your support is so amazing. Because of you, she had life-saving surgery, for free. Your love brings hope to families in their darkest, scariest moments.

``I never thought that someone could heal this, I thought that it would be this way forever,`` says Ndiate. “I am so grateful and so happy. You did something no other hospital could do.”