Leocadie cried when her baby was born, and the tears didn’t stop for the next three months as the tumor grew. Leocadie also had glaucoma, which meant that her vision was severely impaired as she tried to care for her new baby. It was difficult to know how to hold him with the tumor and, unable to see, others had to guide him into their arms. With no money to pay for the surgery, she was overwhelmed with paralyzing fear for her son’s future.
“I was very sad. I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t stop crying,” Leocadie said. And if he survived, she was left with a relentless barrage of questions about what his life might be like. “Will he work? Will he go to school? Will he have friends? Maybe he’ll have to stay home and be a recluse,” he thought.
But she still had hope that someday, with God’s help, her baby would be able to live a normal life, free from the burden of the tumor. She and Edwige decided to name their son Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
“Since he was born like this, we knew his life would come with a lot of problems. We said, ‘Let your name be Emmanuel so that God will be with you,'” Leocadie said. “His name is a testimony, because if God were not with us, he would surely have died, or I would have died taking it.”
Before long, their hopes and prayers for Emmanuel seemed to come true. Edwige was working for a company that partners with Mercy Ships to assist with the shipping container needs of vessels. Edwige’s boss told him about the free surgeries available aboard the Africa Mercy.
Hopeful for Emmanuel’s chance to receive surgery, they took their baby to the ship and discovered that the timing was nothing short of miraculous. Emmanuel was due to have three months to receive surgery to remove the teratoma, and he had just turned three months old on the same day he was examined.
The volunteer surgeon who specializes in cases like Emmanuel’s, Dr. Sherif Emil, was also at Africa Mercy at just the right time.
“‘Teratoma’ in Greek means monster,” Dr. Emil said. “The irony of these tumors is that more than 90 percent are benign, but when left untreated, (they have the potential) to kill the child.”
Bringing Emmanuel onto the ship was a huge step of courage for Leocadie. She was entrusting foreign doctors with her baby, and without her sight, she had to have faith in what she could not see. Her older sister served as her eyes, accompanying Leocadie to each appointment and staying with them on board while Edwige worked.
The surgical process to remove Emmanuel’s tumor lasted more than 8 hours, but the result was a resounding success. “Their outcome was a testament to survival, resilience and blessing,” said Dr. Emil.
The teratoma tumor weighed 2.6 kilograms, approximately one-third of Emmanuel’s total body weight when he underwent surgery.
After surgery, Leocadie reached out to hold Emmanuel. She couldn’t see the change herself, but she immediately felt it. “I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. It was so much lighter. I could feel the difference,” Leocadie said. “Before, I couldn’t see him, but I could touch him with my hands and feel his condition, but now, it’s not huge anymore. His diapers now fit him where they never could before.”
Emmanuel has become stronger and happier since his surgery, and the difference in his family is also tangible. They smile more easily now, the weight of worry has been lifted from their shoulders.
Now Leocadie knows that her son, her “gift from God,” as she calls him, will grow up with a brighter future than she thought possible before the surgery.
“She’s really living up to her name. Since we arrived at Mercy Ships, everything has been going very well,” smiled Leocadie on Emmanuel’s last day on board. “God has really been with us!”