Sahondra peeked outside the warehouse doors at the Africa Mercy. The world’s largest, non-profit hospital ship sat quietly on the dock. She marveled at the gentle giant and what it represents: hope and healing. The ship reminded Sahondra of another hospital ship, the Anastasis – a ship that brought her healing in 1996.
Mercy Ships visited Madagascar in June 1996 on a three-month medical mission. The brief stay had an enduring impact. People excluded by society because of their physical conditions experienced love and compassion by the all-volunteer crew. And among those treated was Sahondra.
Since birth, a cleft lip and palate had limited Sahondra’s ability to eat, speak and breathe normally. It was nearly impossible to take short controlled breaths through her mouth to ease her asthma attacks. Her cleft lip split her upper lip apart up to her nose, attracting awkward glances from strangers.
Dr. Gary Parker performed two surgeries on Sahondra, repairing her palate and pharynx. The surgeries gave Sahondra a new life! Her asthma disappeared, and for the first time ever she ate normally. Slowly she learned to speak properly.
When Sahondra said goodbye to the Anastasis in August 1996, never did she imagine that she would see a Mercy Ships vessel again or the people aboard. However, 18 years later, she stood on the dock peeking outside the warehouse doors, waiting for Dr. Gary to emerge.
Sahondra returned not just for the reunion. Mercy Ships had performed two free surgeries on her cleft lip and palate in 1996, but that did not stop them from continuing to invest in Sahondra’s healing. Mercy Ships offered Sahondra a second set of surgeries at no cost on the Africa Mercy.
Her palate required additional work to continue to offer her the best chance at speaking perfectly. While Dr. Gary worked on her palate, Dr. Tertius Venter separated three toes on her right foot and two toes on her left foot, which had been webbed together since birth.
For Sahondra, the long-term investment Mercy Ships has made and continues to make in Africa has made all the difference in her life.
She said, “Mercy Ships has really changed my life. My health, my mind are all changed. They gave me a new hope to face my life. They gave me a better life!”
Story by Tanya Sierra