We nearly lost her

Olivienne, a young mother with 2 small children almost died because of the lack of access to an essential surgery. In fact her health deteriorated to such a state that the surgical team were not even sure they were going to be able to save her. But a series of circumstances fell into place, conspiring together, with the help of an extremely competent medical team to save her life just in the nick of time.

©2015 Mercy Ships - Photo Credit Katie Keegan -

When she first arrived in Tamatave and was seen by the ships medical team there were no hospital beds available and no surgery slots free. The team was very worried that they would not be able to help her in time. But for the moment they had no option but to send her away for a few days while they looked for a solution.

Olivienne had a “benign” tumour that would have been very simple to remove when it was very small, but because she had no access to essential surgery, it grew to be so big that it was basically choking her to death. Two weeks later the medical team had the results of a biopsy they had taken, they had found a surgery slot they could squeeze her into, and a hospital bed had become available. But unfortunately there were new problems on the horizon.

Because of the sheer size of the tumour Olivienne was unable to eat anything other than liquids and had become very weak and so malnourished that the medical team doubted she would survive such a big surgery. They quickly began a feeding program to help her regain her strength but only a couple of days into it the medical staff noticed that she was struggling to breathe. The tumour had begun to bleed and drain into her windpipe. They had no choice but to perform an emergency tracheotomy just to keep her alive.

©2015 Mercy Ships - Photo Credit Katie Keegan -

To operate on someone in her state would normally be considered too risky but it was clear that if she was not operated on almost immediately she would die anyway. It was Thursday afternoon and the chief surgeon Dr Partner took a very difficult decision that the team would operate first thing Monday morning and just try their best to save her life. But there was still another hurdle! Olivienne was in such a bad way she was unable to give clear consent for the surgery. The team tried to contact her husband using the three different numbers they had but there was no answer on any of them.

Without consent they could not operate so they stopped for a minute and prayed asking for a little help from above. Then they dialled the first number again and Olivienne’s husband answered! He came immediately to the ship to sign the consent forms and so then everything was ready. Finally Monday came and the team worked for hours to remove the tumour. Olivienne still has the tube in her throat but for the moment she appears to be stable and slowing recovering from the terrible effects the tumour had on her health, but the fact that she is even alive is a small miracle!