Meet Emmanuel, the First Patient of the Sierra Leone Field Service
On Tuesday, September 12, Emmanuel was brought into one of the operating rooms of the Global Mercy™, where he became the very first patient to receive surgery during the field service in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
The significance of this moment was not lost on him. Emmanuel, who had just celebrated his 43rd birthday a few days earlier, felt that the timing had turned his birthday month into something extraordinary. “It is a double portion of blessings,” he celebrated.
A tumor on his neck began as a minor concern, a flicker of worry that he hoped would fade away with time.
“At first, I thought it was a toothache, and then I thought maybe it was a cold sore.”
Yet, instead of receding, the tumor grew relentlessly.
Four years later, it had grown to the size of a fist. Emmanuel, a trader in Freetown, was not able to access affordable surgery, so he lived with his condition. But the constant worry and fear of further complications weighed heavily on his shoulders
“I always wondered when it would burst… It’s not good to have those thoughts all the time,” he said.
Sierra Leone: A Ship’s Arrival and an Answered Prayer
When he heard about the arrival of the Global Mercy to Freetown, he sought help from the volunteer team conducting screenings in the country. “We have been hearing about the ship for a long time, and we have been praying for you to come,” he told the Mercy Ships team. For Emmanuel, whose name fittingly means “God with us,” this prayer was answered when the Global Mercy sailed into the port of Freetown three weeks ago.
The ship’s arrival, which was in response to an invitation from the country’s president, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio, marked its inaugural presence in Sierra Leone. However, it was the sixth time that a Mercy Ships vessel has been welcomed to the nation. The enduring partnership between Mercy Ships and Sierra Leone has flourished over three decades, embodying a legacy of hope and transformation.
In the days before Emmanuel arrived on the hospital ship, volunteer crew on board were busy preparing for the beginning of the field service.
“We’ve done all our cleaning; the rooms are ready. We checked our inventory, and all our equipment is in the room, and we just made the beds ready for the first patient,” explained Deddy Kruize, an OR nurse from the Netherlands.
For hospital director Keren Fuhrmeister, Emmanuel’s surgery marked the beginning of what she hoped would be a field service filled with impact: “The first day of surgery for us is the one we’ve all been waiting for because it shows the start of our journey here.”
Over the next 10 months, more than 2,350 lifesaving and life-changing operations will be performed on board.
But the ship’s vision doesn’t end there. “We are not only providing the surgeries that our patients need, but we want to partner with the country of Sierra Leone to provide mentoring, training, and a platform where we can best serve our patients and strengthen their health system,” explained Keren.
Through this combination of direct surgical care and training, Mercy Ships continues living its mission of bringing hope and healing.
Forty-Eight Minutes Later…
The tumor on Emmanuel’s neck consisted of a benign growth on one of his salivary glands. Removing it required a maxillofacial surgeon.
According to Dr. Mustapha Kabba, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Clinical Services for Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation, there are currently no fully certified maxillofacial specialist surgeons practicing in the country.
Dr. Mark Shrime, the International Chief Medical Officer for Mercy Ships, was the lead surgeon in Emmanuel’s surgery. He explained that without surgical intervention, the tumor would likely continue to grow, which “would have paved the way for potentially severe complications down the road.”
In a remarkable twist, it took just 48 minutes to remove Emmanuel’s tumor surgically.
Emmanuel had kept the surgery a secret from his son and father to surprise them in person. “I am hoping for positive results,” he whispered in anticipation right before surgery.
But after the successful surgery, he couldn’t resist sharing the news with his family – he immediately called his father and son to tell them the good news.
Before Emmanuel left his home to come on board, his aunt, who had witnessed his struggles and unwavering determination, expressed her greatest hope:
“After surgery, I hope he can come back and become a witness for what is possible.”
As he recovered in the wards, Emmanuel’s thoughts turned to the future and all the possibilities ahead. “I will continue with my business…I don’t have to worry anymore,” he said. His journey toward healing has begun, and the burdens that had once weighed him down were lifted.