Muriella stood out in the screening crowd as a beautiful 17-year-old girl. From the left side she looked like a normal teenager with long hair and trendy clothes. Then she turns to the right, and the reason she was seeking surgery was obvious.
When Muriella was seven, a cyst began to develop inside of her cheek. At first she was not concerned about the small lump, but it continued to grow and eventually the growth was the size of a tennis ball. Soon Muriella was an unwilling center of attention, subjected to mockery from other kids she used to call friends and others in the village, who didn’t want her near them.
As the lump increased in size, it relentlessly forced her cheek outward. Going to high school became more and more traumatic for Muriella. In fact, she changed schools twice in three years because her classmates did not want to sit next to her or have anything to do with her. When she came home after school she would cry as she prepared dinner for her sisters and her mother.
Muriella’s family has struggled to make ends meet since her father passed away. Her mother works long hours in a factory to support her three daughters and to pay for them to go to school. They live in a small upstairs apartment with two rooms. In one room they cook, eat and sleep. In the other tiny room is a sofa, two chairs and an old television. On the bare wall hangs a picture of a young, pretty, happy girl – a girl without a tumor. “I was hoping one day that would be me again,” said Muriella.
Muriella is a dedicated student, with a dream to study law. She is determined to advocate for the poor who are imprisoned and cannot afford legal representation. Her passion is to see justice provided for the defenseless.
But the relentless growth and the emotional issues it caused were threatening that dream. Muriella was failing important exams, distracted by her devastating condition. Her hopes and dreams for the future were in jeopardy, and so was her life if the facial tumor continued to grow.
Australian nurse Naomi Reid first encountered Muriella at the patient screening as she lined up in the early morning hours with hundreds of others, all seeking help. Naomi recalls the moment she told Muriella the longed-for news: that Mercy Ships would provide a free surgery to remove her cyst. It seemed as though a little bit of life was instantly breathed back into Muriella. She now clung to her hopes that she would have a future after all.
A new chapter of Muriella’s life began as she and her mother traveled to the coast to the Africa Mercy. Volunteer surgeons examined Muriella and reassured her, “We’re going to help you, so you can go back to school.” A week later, after a CAT scan and a multitude of testing onboard the hospital ship, Muriella walked to the operating room to receive her free surgery. Nervous and excited, she realized this was going to change all her tomorrows.
The transformation in Muriella was dramatic and immediate. After the surgery she was eager to go back to school, ready to get back on track for the future she dreamed of. Overnight, she was no longer an outcast, no longer the subject of shame and ridicule.
Through a relatively small procedure, Muriella’s life story changed. Instead of a sad ending, she is beginning a new chapter ready and able to work toward her hopes and dreams.
As she prepares to sit her exams for university, it seems like her dream to be a voice for the voiceless is destined to come true. The gift that donors and volunteers gave to Muriella is one that will keep on giving to others in need.