A teenage boy who spent years seeking surgery for an expanding facial tumour that left him struggling to eat or talk has received successful surgery, thanks to a surgical charity.
Dauoda was only four when a tiny node emerged on his upper jaw. The condition would be picked up earlier by a dentist in other countries but was much harder in his home country of Senegal where there are only just over eight dentists per 1 million people [0.082 dentists per 10,000 of the population in 2020 (WHO) .
But instead, over the years, it grew into a large painful tumour. Struggling to eat, Daouda lost weight as he hit puberty. For years he hid at home, leaving only when seeking treatment with his father, Hamady.
An intelligent boy, Dauoda was forced to quit school in 2019 when all attempts to find surgery came to nothing, despite Hamady’s best efforts.
With Daouda struggling physically to eat, Hamady lost his own appetite.
Hamady, 63, said: “I would cry when I looked at my child. I became unable to eat. It was not right that I could eat well, but my child could not.
“We have been to Mali, to Burkina Faso—everywhere.”
As Hamady was running out of options, he heard that international aid charity Mercy Ships was sending one of its two hospital ships in the port of Dakar, Senegal, delivering free surgery to those who have little access to safe surgical care.
He knew bringing his 13-year-old son to the ship would be a challenge, particularly as it meant leaving during rainy season, a crucial time for his farm. However, encouraged by pictures of successful surgeries on Mercy Ships’ Facebook page, Hamady dropped everything.
He said: “When I am not there, my heart is not calm, but when I see this disease also, it is not fine either. I must take him.”
Before leaving for Mercy Ships, people in his village told him: “This is stupid. Don’t go. Nobody can cure this. They won’t be able to cure this either.”
But Hamady persisted.
He said: “When they sent us to the ship, that is when I started to breathe in peace.”
Hamady’s surgery was a success and included a tumour removal, skin grafts and facial reconstruction.
American surgeon Dr Mark Shrime, the International Chief Medical Officer for Mercy Ships, who carried out Dauoda’s surgery, explained the late discovery of the node and complicated nature of his case, meant no hospitals were able to carry out the specialised surgery.
Dr Shrime said: “Every hospital, every doctor told him they couldn’t do this.”
He added: “Daouda’s story, how his father spent years trying to get care for his son, is why we do what we do. That’s the stuff that drives me.”
Although Hamady was finally eating and sleeping well again, his instinct was still to fear the worst.
After the surgery, nurses went to get him so that he could see his son in the post-anesthesia care unit: “When they called me there, I thought he died. They said, ‘Come see your child’.” Hamady asked in disbelief, “It is over for him? He can speak? He has a mouth?”
Australian hospital director Keren Fuhrmeister witnessed the scene when father and son were reunited after surgery.
She said: “As he went in to see his son, I’ve never seen body language like it — the relief for a father who has never been able to get healing for his son. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look he had. He went, and sat by his son, and held his hand, and his son was just waking up, and he just sat there with pure relief.”
She concluded: “He just sat there, going, ‘I think maybe we’ve finally done it’.”
When Daouda was discharged from the hospital ship, he thanked all the volunteers.
He said: “Personally, I thank you for what you have done for me. When I was at school, I was always the top of my class, but because of my condition, I had to stop in 2019.”
His father is determined he will return to the classroom once back home.
He said: “I often encourage him. I tell him, ‘Go ahead. It is never too late. You will catch up. Because you are intelligent, you will catch up’.”
American volunteer professional paediatric nurse Erin Medeiros said Daouda’s intelligence was apparent to all, and he even picked up more languages during his time on the ward.
She explained: “Daouda is super intelligent. He picks up on everything that is going on; he especially picks up on patterns.
“He always wants something very stimulating to do. He just has this awareness about him. He is a bit of an old soul—in a little body.”
Hamady hopes that the fruits of their labour to get Douda surgery will resonate on a national scale: “Everybody on that road from my village to Dakar knows my child, and everybody’s going to see this, and know that he was cured.”
Hamady repeatedly called his family and friends back home to tell them the good news, but nobody believed him until he sent a picture.
He said: “That day, nobody went to sleep in our house. They were clapping their hands and celebrating.”
Hamady admitted that he would not have believed the transformation himself if not for seeing it with his own eyes.
His father said after Daouda was discharged from the hospital ship: “Thank you. I will never forget this. Even if I die today, I will rest in peace. All of my children are in good health.”