Mamadou prayed silently to himself, asking God for just one more ounce of courage as he waited alone at the Mercy Ships patient screening in Conakry, Guinea. Mamadou tried to blend in with the other adults, silently shifting from chair to chair as the line-up of patients advanced.
Mamadou had not told his family – including his Aunt Hadja, with whom
he lived – that he had come to the Mercy Ships screening. He did not
want to disappoint anyone if he could not have surgery.
A beggar’s life
Mamadou lived with his aunt in Conakry so he could beg on the
traffic-choked streets. His mother and father, in the city of Mamou, had
tried to find an apprenticeship for him so he could have an occupation,
but his arms were not strong enough to carry wood or hammer nails. So,
because the family was desperately poor, they relied on their eldest son
to use his deformity to earn money for the family by begging.
But Mamadou wanted something much different for himself, and all he
needed was arms that looked normal. If he had no deformity, he would not
be expected to beg. He wanted to use his sharp intellect to learn
English, as this language came easy to him. And if he looked normal, it
would not be strange at all if he supported his family through his own
With the money I earned from begging, I bought sheep. Now, the lambs from those sheep feed my family.”
A new hope
Mercy Ships was Mamadou’s only hope, and he was grateful to be
accepted for treatment. He now felt comfortable sharing the good news
with his parents. Mamadou explains, “My condition was a huge burden on
my parents. There was so much disappointment and shame that I had to beg
for the family to survive. I wanted to be certain that Mercy Ships
would do my surgery before I said anything to them.”
His mother and his one-year old sister came to stay with him. His
father assured him that the family would get by during the many months
that Mamadou would be in the hospital and recovering. Relatives would be
called upon to help, and Thierno would find extra work in Mamou. They
wanted to support Mamadou’s dream of having his own business and living
like any normal young man.
Radial club hands
Onboard the Africa Mercy hospital ship, volunteer plastics
surgeon, Dr. Tertius Venter, explained Mamadou’s rarely seen condition.
“Mamadou was born with radial club hands and only four fingers on each
hand. The front sides of his hands are underdeveloped and bend downward
on an angle. His elbow joints have also been affected.
Since Mamadou’s left elbow was functional, Dr. Tertius proceeded with
a two-stage rehabilitation of the left arm. In the first surgery, Dr.
Tertius aligned Mamadou’s left hand with his forearm. In six months,
when Dr. Tertius returns to Mercy Ships, he will take Mamadou’s index
finger and reposition it to create a thumb. Mamadou’s left arm will look
and function almost completely normally.
Sadly, Dr. Tertius determined that no surgery could improve the
functioning of Mamadou’s right arm. He explained to Mamadou, “With your
right elbow joint in its bent position, like it is now, your right hand
is close enough to your body and other hand to be of help. But that
right elbow joint can never be made to move and flex. All I can do is
set the elbow joint so that your arm is straight. But then, your hand
would be out of reach of your other hand and your body and be far less
useful to you. The best thing I can do for you is to leave your right
arm completely as is.”
Mamadou is determined
Mamadou looked forward to the months of recovery time before his
second surgery. He spoke excitedly to his mother, “I want Uncle Alpha to
teach me all about his clothing business in the big market. But most of
all, I want to learn how to say something I have in my heart in
English: ‘Thank you, Mercy Ships, for giving me the hope and courage to
show the world that I, like any normal eldest son, can support his
family with the many abilities God did give me.’”