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Friday, March 19, 2010

Oceane-A Story from Benin

Whilst Megan was working in the communications office, one of the photographers, grabbed her attention, saying, "You need to have a look at this pre-operative photo." She spun her chair around and was horrified by the image on his computer screen. There was one-year-old Oceane. Tears were streaming from her eyes. Her little face grimaced in pain. A grotesque mass, larger than her head, hung from the back of her neck. The photo made her uncomfortable. Instinctively, she turned away. "Children aren't supposed to experience that kind of pain," she thought.
Oceane had an encephalocele - a rare neural tube defect characterized by sac-like protrusions of neural tissue through openings in the skull. A small gap in the back of her head, only 1.4 cm wide, was the root of her problems. It allowed cerebrospinal fluid to escape from her brain and collect in the ballooning skin on the back of her neck, which formed the disturbing "second head."
Oceane's mother, Philomen, had brought her baby to a Mercy Ships medical screening day in February 2009. Upon evaluation, surgeons planned on removing the mass and placing a small tube in her brain. The tube, called a shunt, would drain excessive fluid from her head into her abdomen. However, the earliest surgical opening wasn't until October.
During the seven months of waiting for the surgery, Philomen faced great discouragement. As the bulge continued to swell, simple things, like bathing Oceane, began to scare Philomen. "When I gave her a bath, I never washed her head. I was scared the tumor would explode, and the baby would die."
To make life even more miserable, others began to mock Philomen, saying, "Look at the horrible baby she has."
Philomen said, "I never replied. I felt very ashamed and always stayed in the house." Friends and family increased the tension by saying that Mercy Ships was making her wait because they couldn't perform the surgery.
Despite the discouraging voices around her, Philomen never lost hope that Oceane could be helped. On Sunday, October 14, she brought the child to the Africa Mercy . That evening, Megan walked down to the hospital to meet them. Oceane was helplessly lying on the bed, unable to sit up from the weight of the mass. "There is no way they are going to be able to remove that," she thought to myself. Cautiously, she introduced herself. She knew it was still uncertain that she'd receive her surgery. She was scheduled for a neurosurgical procedure that normally required multiple surgeons, expensive equipment, and a follow-up stay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. It would be high-risk, even with the boundless resources of Western medicine. We were on a hospital ship with half of those resources. The surgeons weren't certain the operation would be safe. Already, Megan could see high hopes and expectations in Philomen's eyes. Oceane was wearing a hospital ID band and sleeping on an Africa Mercy bed . This was the moment she had dreamed about for seven months. But the odds were still against Oceane. Megan didn't want to act too excited for Philomen - not yet. She held Oceane's hand, told Philomen it was nice to meet her, and walked away praying, "God, please help that baby." The next day, a CT Scan of Oceane's head was taken. The results spawned further discussions among the medical staff as they weighed the risks/benefits of her surgery. Finally, the medical team decided Oceane would receive surgery. Her big day was Friday. Thursday afternoon, Megan walked onto D ward looking for her, but the bed was empty. "Where is Oceane?" she asked one of the nurses. "She's in the recovery room. She had her surgery today." Five minutes later, a recovery room nurse walked into the ward holding a small baby with a white turban of bandages. It was Oceane. Again, Megan was shocked. The mass was completely gone. While the nurses listened to her lungs and connected her to a heart monitor, Philomen came to the bedside. When she realized the mass was gone, she was speechless. All she could do was stand by the bed and hold Oceane's tiny hand. For fifteen minutes, she stared at her daughter, oscillating between contented smiles and joyful tears. Megan couldn't hold back her own tears. Throughout the next week, she continued to visit D ward. For the first time, Philomen could see the back of Oceane's neck. Proudly, she tied Oceane to her back like other African mothers and walked up and down the hospital corridor. Philomen was glowing. "When I saw the baby in the surgery room, she was laughing. God has done something great in my life that has lifted me. I have to thank God and ask Him to bless Mercy Ships," she declared. Three weeks after surgery, Oceane came to the Africa Mercy for her final post-op appointment. Megan came down to the hospital to say goodbye. Smiling and laughing as she held Oceane in one arm, Philomen greeted her with an enthusiastic, " Merci, merci, merci beaucoup , " - French for, " Thank you, thank you, thank you very much ."
She handed Megan Oceane, who stared into her eyes and reached out her small hand to grab her hair. All Megan could think was, "God has done a miracle."

---------------------------------------- Taken from a story written by Megan Petock Photos by Mercy Ships photographers, Megan Petock, PJ Accetturo and Esther Biney

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