Country: Sierra Leone

Age: 3

Surgery: Maxillofacial

Share Umu’s story

A baby is born in a humble room in Sierra Leone. Her mum can’t wait to hold her and wrap her up in love.

But when Yei saw her newborn for the first time, she felt shocked and scared. “I was afraid to see the tumour on her face”, she says.

While she was pregnant, Yei had no ultrasound, and no reason to think her baby would be born anything but healthy. So when she first saw the lump on her precious baby’s face and neck, she felt devastated.

Umu before surgery
Umu was born with a tumour. By the time she was three, it threatened to choke her.

Yei’s family, friends, and even strangers were shocked to see her baby’s tumour. “It hurt me a lot,” she recalls.

Baby Umu grew to smile, laugh and play. Her mum adored her. But as she grew up, her tumour grew too. She found it hard to swallow with her tumour and was often sick. With every passing day, Yei grew more and more afraid that her beautiful baby would die.

“When I walked outside with Umu, children would run away from her because they were afraid of the tumour,” her mother said. “People asked so many questions about what was wrong with Umu. I didn’t have any answers.”

Can you imagine how afraid Yei was? This loving mum took her baby to many hospitals, desperately looking for help. But there was not a single surgeon who could treat Umu’s condition in the whole of Sierra Leone.

No child should be born without access to hospital care. But for so many families like Umu’s, safe surgery is out of reach.

Three years later, Umu had grown up into a very joyful little girl. But she was becoming more aware of her painful tumour. “Can’t we just get a knife and cut it off mummy? It’s so heavy”, she’d say.

Her mother Yei bravely held onto hope. Thanks to kind gifts like yours last Christmas, her prayers came true. She heard the good news of the Global Mercy where her daughter could find healing. She felt so grateful.

Umu before her surgery playing onboard the ship with a volunteer nurse
Umu plays on the deck of the Global Mercy with nurse Maddy Hartung.

When Mercy Ships doctors saw Umu, they operated straight away. The tumour was growing dangerously close to her airway – there was no time to waste. Volunteer surgeon Dr Gary Parker shared, “She was at very high risk of suffocation with continued growth of the tumour.”

Yei’s heart raced as she watched her little girl wheeled away to the operating theatre. “I feared Umu would die.”

Umu woke up from surgery to see her mum smiling down at her.

“When Umu’s surgery was successful, I cried tears of joy”, said Yei. “I feel like a burden has been lifted from my shoulders.”

As Umu looked in a mirror, she beamed with happiness. Her tumour was gone.

Umu looks in the mirror after surgery with her aunt Fatmata. At first, she can’t believe her tumour has gone.

A few days later on the children’s ward, Umu laughs as she plays peek-a-boo in the playhouse. Her mum smiles with joy as she sees how well she’s recovering. Seeing Umu so happy brings healing to her own heart.

Umu after surgery learning out of the window of the playhouse onbaord the ship
Umu loved to play in the playhouse.

After her surgery, Umu can eat full meals. She’s growing taller and stronger, day after day. She continues to receive follow-up care at the Children’s Hospital in Freetown with the kind Dr Bah to make sure she stays healthy.

Umu smiles on the children’s ward. You can bring a miracle of mercy to a child like Umu.
Umu after surgery hugging her mother, Yei
Umu cuddles her mum Yei.

Now at home, Umu has started school. Her family are full of hope.

“She’s a very brave girl,” says her aunt, Fatmata. “The future holds something amazing for Umu. It’s a good feeling seeing how far this baby has come.”

Umu’s light shines, and you can’t help but smile when you see her. If you met her now, you’d never guess her life was at risk without surgery. Something we hope she’ll soon forget.

Umu in her mother's arms at the home visit after her surgery
Yei and Umu at home. Your generosity can create miracles for more families this Christmas.

You can bring a miracle of mercy this Christmas. Give life-saving surgical care to a child like Umu. Give training for doctors, so more bright little girls and boys can find urgent care, whenever they need it. With your help, more children can grow up with hope and happiness.

Your generosity can create miracles for more families like Umu’s. This Christmas, every £20 you give will be doubled to £40.