Every day, I was just waiting to die.

Around 36 years ago, a tumour began to consume Sambany’s life. It became a monstrous burden, weighing 7.46kg (16.45 lbs) – equivalent to two extra heads. After nearly three decades as a maxillofacial surgeon, Dr. Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer, said: “It’s one of the biggest tumours of this type that I’ve seen.”

The tumour was also an emotional burden. Family and friends rejected him, mocked him, laughed at him, shunned him. Some thought his condition was contagious. Harsh words were flung at him: “Why are you still alive? No one can help!”

Hopelessness defined his life. The search for help required travelling hundreds of miles and included ten hospitals (only three of which had surgeons) and a witch doctor… with no success. Sambany’s poverty blocked any other option. His despair reached new depths. “I was waiting to die,” he said. “I could not do anything. Every day, I was just waiting to die.”

So, Sambany’s world shrank to the size of his house, his only place of safety and peace. Eventually, he became so weak that his life became a monotonous cycle of waking, sleeping and eating. He felt useless, and it was hard to watch his family working in the rice fields while he wasted away. They were poor, and money spent on trying to help him was money that they couldn’t spend on food.

Sambany’s main companion was the radio. One day he heard an announcement that gave him hope: a hospital ship that could treat tumours for free was coming to Madagascar. In spite of his weakness, Sambany told his family: “Die or survive, I want to go!”

It was a journey that only a desperate man would attempt. The closest road was several days away; the ship was hundreds of miles away. Sambany struggled to walk around his house. How could he survive such a journey? But his family recognised his desperation and determination. They sold a rice field to pay for the journey. Five people took turns carrying him on their backs for two days. Then Sambany endured a painful six-hour taxi ride… but he made it.

Owing to multiple health concerns, Sambany’s surgery would be extremely risky. For almost two weeks, he rested as the medical team determined the best course of action.

Then, with one word, Sambany’s entire life was changed. After a lifetime of hearing “No, no, no”, he was delighted when the medical team said yes to performing the difficult surgery. Sambany was well aware of the risks. “I know without surgery I will die. I know I might die in surgery, but I already feel dead inside from the way I’m treated. I choose to have surgery.”

The surgery took more than half a day, and more than double his body's volume of blood was lost and replaced. Our crew, our living blood bank, literally poured life into Sambany. The blood of 17 people from six nations now runs through his veins.

Dr Gary described the surgery: “Often, in operations, you have high-stress moments where you’re in the middle of something – where, in that moment, if something goes wrong, you could lose the patient from a severe haemorrhage or something. With Sambany, it was pretty much high pressure the whole 12 hours of the surgery.”

The end result? Sambany was finally free from the burden that had weighed him down for nearly two-thirds of his life. “I am free from my disease,” he said. “I’ve got a new face. I am saved!”

Dr. Gary said: “I think that every human being has the right to look human. To be treated as human. To have a place at the table of the human race. And when you have been deprived that seat, and it’s offered to you again… to be able to re-enter the human race and to look like everyone else… that’s a fantastic thing.”

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