Living Years With a Facial Tumor

Of all the birthdays he’d celebrated in his life, Emmanuel’s 43rd would turn out to be something truly extraordinary.

Just a few days after turning the page to a new year of life, a new chapter began. Emmanuel was wheeled into an operating room on board the Global Mercy™ hospital ship, where he became the very first patient to receive surgery during the field service in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

There, in a surgery that took just 48 minutes, Emmanuel was freed from the tumor that had been growing on his neck for 4 years.

“It is a double portion of blessings!” Emmanuel celebrated after the successful surgery. “This is one of the happiest days of my life.”

Patient Emmanuel, first patient's Global Mercy mission in Sierra Leone

Facial Tumor: Relieving Years of Worry

When the tumor on his neck first began growing, it was just a minor concern. Emmanuel felt flickers of worry, but he dismissed it, hoping the tumor would fade away with time.

“At first, I thought it was a toothache, and then I thought maybe it was a cold sore,” he remembered. Yet with time, the tumor continued to grow relentlessly. Within the span of four years, it had grown to the size of his fist. He visited the hospital and received medication – but it did nothing to slow the growth.

Working as a trader in Freetown, Emmanuel couldn’t afford the cost of surgery, so he continued living with his condition. But as the tumor grew, so did the constant worry. 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.

Years later, Emmanuel caught his first breath of renewed hope when he heard about the arrival of the brand-new Mercy Ships hospital vessel to his hometown. “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 during his first preoperative appointment. “Emmanuel means God with us. God is with us, and God is with Mercy Ships!”

Story of Emmanuel

Healing in Just 48 Minutes

The Mercy Ships medical crew assessed that the tumor on Emmanuel’s neck consisted of a benign growth on one of his salivary glands. Removing it would require a maxillofacial or head and neck surgeon.

According to Dr. Mustapha Kabba, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Clinical Services for Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation, at the time of the Global Mercy’s arrival there were 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.” Fortunately, the brief surgery on board changed this trajectory.

Emmanuel had kept the surgery a secret from his son and father to surprise them in person. 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.

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.

After a series of follow-up appointments on board to ensure he had healed fully, it was time for Emmanuel to return home and reunite with his community. There, he found that he was free from more than just fear of the future. He also felt free from the shame that had held him back for years.

“I now can pull my hair back,” marveled Emmanuel, weeks after returning to his normal life. “I used to hide and walk in shame, with my head down and covering my face. Now, I can pull my hair back and walk down the street with my head held high, with confidence.”

Story of Emmanuel

To enable other patients like Emmanuel to have access to life-changing surgeries onboard a hospital ship, you can donate here or to discover other patient stories.


Maxillofacial Surgery