The boy with the strong spirit: Serigne

In a village in northwestern Senegal, the name Serigne has great meaning.

Identifies with leadership and authority. Many people and establishments proudly carry this distinguished name throughout the town, symbolizing the belief in its potential for greatness.

This means 6-year-old Serigne is in good company. Her father, Abdou, says he deliberately chose the name because he foresaw a future where his son would be influential.

“I wanted to give her this name because when you think someone is going to be great, you call them Serigne,” he explains.

At her tender age, Serigne already embodied the essence of leadership that her name implies. Her parents began to see her determined spirit at an early age. “Since he started talking, if he wants something, he won’t hesitate to tell you,” Abdou said. “God gave him this spirit of leadership; he was born with it, and he (Serigne) shares everything with everyone.”

Serigne’s outgoing personality was like a gift to her parents, because they knew from his early childhood that his life would not be easy. Serigne developed bow legs as a child. When he was 2 years old, his parents noticed that it took him longer to walk, and when he did, he had a hard time.

“As he grew, we noticed his legs slowly opening. At that point, we knew what was blocking his progress.” His parents feared that the physical and social limitations he would face would affect his confidence. “His legs hurt when he played and he ran…he was different from other children,” remembers his mother, Seye.

However, his physical condition did not discourage Serigne. “He’s such a happy boy, he’s a fighter…he’s got a strong spirit!” Seye said.

But when it was time to start school, looking different began to affect Serigne. Other children made fun of him and he got into fights. Eventually, to protect him from ridicule, his parents made the difficult decision to withdraw him from school.

Being a twin made this especially difficult for Serigne, who watched his brother Fallou go to school and became discouraged.

Surgery on the Global Mercy hospital ship

Serigne’s parents could not afford surgery at local hospitals. So when they learned that Serigne might be eligible to receive safe, free surgery with Naves de Esperanza, they immediately took him to a patient screening trial. He qualified for surgery, and he and his mother traveled to Dakar to board the organization’s newest hospital ship, the Global Mercy™.

The surgery that changed Serigne’s life lasted four hours. Volunteer orthopedic surgeon Dr. Johannes Kolbe from Germany was part of the team that performed Serigne’s surgery. He reflected on the profound impact he hoped the surgery would have on Serigne’s life, saying: “We can hope that he will be able to walk, learn and go to school.”

While the surgery was relatively quick, Serigne’s path to full recovery involved weeks of dedicated rehabilitation. During this time, the resilience he was known for shined brightly. “He wants to walk. In fact, he keeps telling the nurses that he wants to walk,” shared volunteer nurse and ward leader Ansley Burnett, a few days after Serigne’s surgery.

Recovery took time, as Serigne had to spend a few weeks in a cast before he could begin exercising with a walker. But he rose to the challenge every step of the way. To the delight of patients and hospital staff, he faced his journey with an ever-present smile and an infectious laugh that echoed through the hospital hallways.

Once again, Serigne exemplified the strong-willed spirit that defines his name. “Serigne is a happy person; wherever he is, he is open to people and makes them laugh,” Abdou said.

Serigne’s new freedom

“He went to the ship with pain, but he returned home with great joy,” Abdou celebrated after Serigne’s return home. Serigne, full of emotion, immediately wanted to show his transformation to his friends. His fervor was uncontrollable despite his parents’ kind pleas to take it easy. As an outward demonstration of this new freedom, he insisted on walking to the houses of all his neighbors.

“There was a time when I really couldn’t sleep because of his legs… If my anxiety level was at 100%, I can say that now it is at 5%,” said Abdou, beaming with joy. “They’ve fixed her legs, so going to school isn’t going to be so bad,” he added.

The surgery allowed Serigne to explore a world without limitations, sparing him a life defined by physical challenges. Her parents say they see a vibrant future for her son in which her strong personality can shine even brighter.

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As volunteers on hospital ships, we travel to provide free world-class health services and safe surgical care. We are dedicated to strengthening local health systems, making a difference in communities with limited access to health.