Slowly losing her eyesight from cataracts felt like a lifelong prison sentence for the 65-year-old seamstress. The blindness stole her independence because she was forced to rely on family members to be her eyes. Even simple walks to the market, down streets she’d known her entire life, became almost impossible to navigate on her own. All she could see were clouded shadows and pinpricks of light.
The blindness also stole her livelihood and her life’s calling. She could no longer work as a seamstress and had to depend on her younger sister for help. But the worst part was losing her ability to travel around Cameroon and evangelize, which she’d always felt called to do.
Without money to pay for cataract surgery, Lydienne almost gave up hope. But one day, her pastor told her, “The ship is coming. You will have your sight restored.” And immediately Lydienne believed with all her heart that the hospital ship would change her life.
She arrived at the Mercy Ships eye screenings, nervous and full of hope. On the scheduled day for her long-desired cataract surgery, she arrived at the ship bright and early in the morning. “God has His eye on me,” she said confidently before being led up the gangway.
Removing her cataracts was a quick surgical procedure. The very next day, Lydienne’s eye patch was removed. It was the moment of truth – had the surgery been successful? And the answer was YES! After a decade of darkness, she could see again!
“I went home shouting in excitement. I could see everything! Even seeing buildings again makes me so happy,” she said.
At first, her relatives couldn’t believe it, and they jokingly tested her to make sure she really could see. “They’ll ask me what they’re holding or ask me to read things to them. When I do, they all applaud. I don’t mind being treated like a child in this way – I can see it’s all in joy,” smiled Lydienne.
Now, with her eyesight and independence restored, Lydienne can resume her work as a seamstress. And she’s even more excited about being able to once again travel around the city, speaking with people about God’s love and sharing her own story with them.
“I believe my sight has been anointed. Even if my clothes are fading and getting old, I see them in the brightest colors now!”
Written by Rose Talbot
Photography by Saul Loubassa Bighonda
Edited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina
Underneath the swirling pattern and bright dye of Djenabou’s scarf was a massive goiter that had been growing for over 18 years. For more than half her life, she’d carried its weight … a weight producing far more than the physical effects of a mass slowly closing her airways. Djenabou felt like the goiter had made her its captive. Beneath its weight was a woman who believed she would never find love or have a family of her own. She kept it covered, constantly fearful of what people might say.
The goiter began as a small lump on her neck and slowly progressed to a large mass constricting her airways. It made breathing difficult and caused regular bouts of painful coughing.
Djenabou described her condition as a “huge hindrance” in building a life of her own. She earned a living renting out a bicycle transportation service, but she dreamed of one day being a seamstress and having her own trade. But that dream seemed to be out of reach because of her limited neck mobility.
Hope was born when Mercy Ships came to Cameroon. When Djenabou thought about what her life would be like after a free surgery, she didn’t focus on the relief of her physical pain. “I will be free,” she said simply, as a smile tugged on the corners of her mouth. For the first time in her adult life, she would no longer have to hide behind layers of fabric.
The goiter was removed on the Africa Mercy, in a surgery that required four blood donors. Fortunately, Mercy Ships has a “walking blood bank” system, which means qualified crew members are always on call to donate blood to patients in need.
“It was such a blessing to care for [Djenabou] prior to surgery. She was so joyful! I provided her preoperative teaching and shared with her that she may require a blood transfusion. I was so happy to find out that my blood went to her!” said volunteer ward nurse Kathleen Wagner, who took care of Djenabou before and during her surgery.
After the removal of her goiter, you might suppose that Djenabou’s biggest dream is to be a seamstress. But you would be wrong. Her biggest dream is to find love—her own “happily ever after.”
Written by Rose Talbot
Photography by Saul Loubassa-Bighonda
Edited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina
5 billion people lack access to safe and affordable surgery.
The number is overwhelming, but together…we can change lives one by one and work towards a future where healthcare is accessible to all. Since Mercy Ships was founded in 1978, our volunteers, donors, and employees have worked tirelessly to combat the global surgery crisis.
As Easter nears, we are reminded of seemingly impossible situations, but also that there is hope and there is the promise of a new day. By believing in the impossible together we can help those who are in need of surgical care now and prevent those from needing it in the future.
This March, your gift will be MATCHED making twice the impact!
Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, in all its forms. Love can break our hearts and make us feel whole, it is a universal language that fuels the Africa Mercy. By supporting Mercy Ships, you are making dark nights become sunny days for each of our patients, letting them know that they matter and are loved.
“Where there is love, there is no darkness” (African Proverb)
Your love gave baby Paul a future…
The first sight of 3-month-old Paul revealed a feather-light bundle cradled in his desperate mother’s arms. His skin was paper-thin and his body remarkably tiny. He weighed just over 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) – less than he had when he was first born.
The tiny baby was born with a cleft lip and palate that made it impossible for him to nurse properly. It was a mother’s worst nightmare – watching helplessly as her baby grew thinner and weaker. “I didn’t understand why it was happening or what I could do to help him. I couldn’t breastfeed him properly. No matter what we did, he kept losing weight,” said his mother, Francoise, her eyes reflecting her weariness and fear. “We were so scared … we thought he would die.”
Despite the precariousness of his situation, this mother’s love knew no bounds. The hungry baby cried all night, so Francoise stayed up, rocking her tiny baby through the long nights with only the company of a kerosene lamp.
Baby Paul, like his mama, was a fighter. The Africa Mercy’s medical staff immediately recognized that his condition was critical. They brought him onboard before the hospital was even officially opened, so that they could monitor his temperature and feed him through a nose-to-stomach tube.
“The problem when they’re that small and weak is that they find it really difficult to suck. We fed him with a syringe and eventually got him to a special bottle made for babies with cleft lip and palate,” said Lee-Anne Borrow James (AUS), Infant Feeding Program dietician.
It was touch-and-go for a few days, but then the courageous little boy began to turn the corner toward healing. Once he was considered safe to leave the hospital, the dieticians checked Paul regularly to track his growth, measure the size of his head, arms and legs, assess his feeding, and continue suggesting methods for healthy weight gain.
Gradually, as the weeks passed, baby Paul began to visibly change. His formerly gaunt face was replaced by round cheeks. His hair grew thick and healthy. His formerly listless eyes were now glowing and content.
Paul wasn’t the only one being transformed. Hope bloomed in Francoise’s heart as she watched her baby slowly growing stronger. She dared to hope that this baby that people had once called “monster” would survive … this baby that was now adored by crew members and other patients. She said, “When I look at my baby, I can only cry – but it is tears of joy. Even I am gaining weight, now that I can eat and sleep!”
“The dynamic between dietician, mother and infant is a special one to be a part of,” says Lee-Anne. Many mothers struggle with believing that their baby’s condition is not their fault, but is instead something that occurred naturally and can be fixed. It took time for Francoise to trust the affirming words of the Mercy Ships dietician team. “It’s been amazing to watch over time how she’s worked very hard for her baby. She’s quite determined. She fiercely knows what she wants and what she needs to do,” said Lee-Anne.
Three months later, weighing a whopping 6.4 kilograms (14.1 pounds), Paul was three times the baby he was when he first arrived. He was once again carried up the gangway – this time, for a cleft lip repair that would restore his future and reward his mother’s courageous hope.
Thank you for supporting our patients and bringing hope and healing to so many. Mercy Ships Canada is sending love to you today and all days.