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Monday, October 27, 2008


In a country without adequate health care your survival beyond the age of 5 makes you one of the "lucky ones". You've overcome the odds. Then one day at 16 years old, you discover a small button tumour on your face. It grows rapidly over the next 8 years. You are helpless because there is nothing you can do and no one can help you.

This is the story of Alimou Camara from Conokry, the capital of Guinea in West Africa. Alimou was born in 1984 and schooled in a catholic mission, despite his Muslim background. His parents died when he was young, and he was left with his 3 brothers and 2 sisters. Today only two of his brothers are alive and both are married.

At 16, Alimou had to stop school as the tumour grew in size and became an unsightly spectacle. His siblings supported him, but his friends abandoned him. People just laughed and rejected him.

Soon he was unable to work or eat, and he began losing weight. His nephews and nieces grew afraid of him, his sister-in-law feared contamination and ordered her children not to drink from the same cup. He began to seclude himself, hiding away from a judgmental world.

After 8 years his tumour, which hung from his lower jaw, had grown to the size of his head and had become a strain on his neck. His bottom teeth became embedded and displaced as the mass enlarged. He experienced headaches and a continuous watering of his eyes. Puss would seep from his mouth where the tumour protruded. Alimou would wipe it away, but the smell was overpowering. For the last several years he was unable to chew and forced to push the food to the back of his throat to swallow. Without medical attention benign tumours will slowly cut off a persons airway as they grow, and in many cases prevent the passage of food through the mouth. In hope, Alimou was not willing to settle began going out in public to various hospitals seeking help. Wherever he tried, no one was able to help him. In a last desperate attempt he sought help at Radio Familial, a local station known for it's humanitarian work. From there he was refered to John Erickson, a chaplain in the town of N'Zau who worked at the hope clinic. John told him about Mercy Ships that was currently in Liberia and a screening team was due in Guinea 1 week later and he was welcome to stay until then.

The Mercy Ships team determined that he was an ideal candidate for maxillo-facial surgery and he was able to fly (his first time!) to Liberia for free, thanks to the world food program. The 8 hours surgery involved removing the 3kg (6.6lb) tumour, his lower jaw and all his lower teeth. The surgeons removed the tumour and fitted Alimou with a titanium lower jaw. It was like dismantling a malfunctioning machine then reshaping it together to make it whole.

The hour finally came when Aimou was conscious, without a mass on his face for the first time he was handed a small mirror, he examined his face quietly, in awe, tears slid down his cheeks, he was unable to speak due to the tracheotomy, but actions spoke louder than any words. He was amazed.

He spent 10 days recovering on the ward and he summed up his thoughts on the care of the nurses, doctors and the surgery itself "It was Jesus who helped me because He is here". He still had no lower teeth or chin and had to continue to keep his food very soft. The remaining skin that stretched over his tumour needed time to shrink back and so he was booked for a return surgery later on in the year to have bones taken from his hip and placed around his prosthetic lower jaw to form a chin. These will naturally graft to the titanium jaw, the swelling will recede and he will be able to function better than he has in the last 8 years. His plans now: he wants to go back to school for accounting, he is also interested in economics. Given the obstacles he has already overcome in his life, we're sure he'll achieve his goal. Praise God for Alimou's life and pray for him as he returns and gets used to what normal life is like.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's been fun to read your news!
God Bless. Georgia Gibbons