Moamai – A cervical teratoma

Maomai: Saved from Suffocation

Baby Maomai would have died of suffocation and/or starvation had not Mercy Ships doctors intervened with vital surgery.

It was the middle of the night, and Perlagie couldn’t sleep. The image of Maomai, her three-month-old baby girl, flashed through her mind every time she closed her eyes. A huge tumour the size of the baby’s head jutted out of Maomai’s neck. Perlagie cried as she gazed at her daughter peacefully sleeping in her bed.

At birth, Maomai’s neck sprouted a cervical teratoma, a congenital benign tumour which quickly developed into a monstrous growth. It started out the size of a golf ball, but after only three months the tumour equalled the size of Maomai’s head.

What should have remained a joyful event for the whole family and village — the birth of a baby — soon turned into a living nightmare. When fellow villagers looked at Maomai, they saw a monster. In a country where physical differences mark people as outcasts, Maomai was not welcomed.

Perlagie and her husband naturally sought help for their daughter. Their local hospital had no doctor able to operate on the tumor. For over a week, Perlagie stayed in the hospital, waiting, hoping and praying for a doctor to come along and help her daughter – but no one came. Eventually they returned home.

Back home, Perlagie’s sister-in-law told her about a hospital ship docked in Cotonou. She had just returned from the ship after being treated for an eye problem and thought they could might be able to help Maomai.

Perlagie journeyed to the Mercy Ships with her daughter. Seeing the urgency, the ship’s medical team wanted to operate immediately. But with the tumour making it difficult for Maomai to feed, she weighed too little to endure an operation. The medical team placed her on a feeding program, postponing surgery for one month.

The day arrived for the operation. It took six hours for the surgeons to remove the tumour which weighed 375 grams — 15% of her body weight!

Maomai spent over a month on the Africa Mercy, recovering and being fed through a tube to help her regain weight. She grew steadily and gained in vibrancy. She is a real-life example of how donor support works. Had it not been for the generosity of people who never met her, she would have been condemned to a slow death.