We heal Samba’s life

samba sosteniendo una foto suya

After 56 years with a cleft lip, it only took a two-hour surgery to change Samba’s life and unleash his God-given potential.

Samba, a widower with four children, worked as a rancher in rural Senegal, where he suffered discrimination due to his lifelong condition.

He had gotten used to his cleft lip drawing unwanted attention. Physical attacks were so common that Samba couldn’t remember how many times they had happened.

«What is it like to walk around and be worried about how people will respond to your face? “What kind of burden is that?” asked Dr. David Chong, the volunteer surgeon from Australia who would later operate on Samba.

Eventually, the pandemic allowed Samba to hide his lips behind a mask. He conveyed his smile through a warm handshake and crow’s feet around his eyes. This was the Samba that showed up on the hospital ship Global Mercy™ when he came aboard to receive free surgery.

“You can see the pain in his eyes from many experiences he’s had in his life, but what particularly impressed me about him was that he had this intrinsic sense of self-worth,” Dr. Chong said, in contrast to many other adults whose cleft lip had repaired over the years. «He was very captivating. He wanted to tell you a story. He wanted to know more about you and wanted to interact with everyone.

For Samba, being aboard the Global Mercy hospital ship was a unique experience. “When I first got on board the ship, I was very scared,” he said. Samba made the full tour and, on the upper deck of the hospital ship, he looked at his nation’s capital with a new perspective and cried.

While waiting for surgery, Samba reflected on his journey, recounting a lifetime of ridicule and self-loathing. “People used to tell me things I can’t even explain,” she shared. “I’ve missed a lot of things in life.”

It was like other patient stories Dr. Chong had heard in his decades of regular volunteering with Ships of Hope.

However, he usually didn’t hear these stories from cleft lip patients. In Australia, as in many Western countries, most cleft lips are repaired when a baby celebrates her first birthday. “You get to a place like Senegal and you meet a 56-year-old who has an unrepaired cleft lip, wow, how did this happen? “How did you get to this age?”

Ultimately, Dr. Chong says, it all comes down to access. Five billion people lack access to safe, affordable and timely surgical care. “You can’t believe that this could happen on planet Earth in 2023, but it happens,” he reflected. This reality drives Naves de Esperanza’s mission to bring hope and health that change lives, following the model of Jesus.

Surgery Day

On the morning of Samba’s life-changing surgery, Dr. Chong took a moment to share an important message: “We can see your heart. “No matter what you look like, you are a very good man.”

Samba had only heard the opposite for 56 years, but this day was different.

“I never thought that one day my lips would be repaired,” Samba said. But that day had arrived.

“Your soul is strong and special, and it’s finally time,” Dr. Chong told Samba. “I had to fly over 24 hours here, and if it was just to meet you and do this surgery, then it was worth it.”

Samba was solemn as Dr. Chong described the operation. A national crew member named Bocar Sy assured Samba in his language, Pulaar, that he didn’t need to stay so still, despite being hooked up to an intravenous drip, and Samba relaxed, laughing. Dr Chong asked if Samba would like to undergo surgery to preserve his “spear” tooth that was peeking through his cleft lip. Staring at Dr. Chong in disbelief, Samba mimicked pulling out the tooth that had defined him for so long.

“I’m crying because I’m very happy, I’m not sad,” Samba clarified. “Everything is going to be okay, and I can’t thank you enough for that.”

The other side

«What I remember about the surgery is when someone came to wake me up. They woke me up and informed me that the surgery was over,” Samba said. “I didn’t feel any pain.”

The next day, Samba sat on her hospital bed with renewed dignity, crying tears of joy every time she looked in the mirror. He couldn’t believe what he saw.

When asked if he was ready for photographs, Samba joked with his hands over his mouth: “I won’t smile! “They have given me a good gift and I want to take care of it and let it heal perfectly.”

“There is definitely a change in his eyes,” Dr. Chong marveled. “It’s just the soul that comes through his eyes when he realizes who he is, maybe not even who he is, but who people can see he is now.”

Samba unleashed

Two weeks after his surgery, Samba was sent home from the floating hospital. Dr. Chong speculated: “I think he will break out. He already has a vibrant personality. He will make sure to make up for a lot of lost time.

Weeks later, once he was reunited and returned home with his family, Samba declared: “I am the happiest person.”

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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.