i don’t normally share stories about hospital patients on this blog, but this little boy was on, near, and around the ship for so long that i got to know him. when i saw this story (put together by our marketing team) today i thought it would be a good one to share with you all. this patient was so much trouble in all the classic boy ways. he insisted on calling me the wrong name and then giggle as he ran away to play ball. enjoy!
Sahr Dauda and his buddy sat with both legs in casts and bandaged in front of them. A look of gleeful anticipation lighted the faces of both boys. They were waiting for the hallway to be clear enough to begin their wheelchair race in the hall of the hospital ship, the Africa Mercy. The volunteer surgeons had straightened the legs of both boys. Since it would take many weeks for their legs to heal, they had plenty of time to hone their racing skills while they built their friendship.
Sahr was born sometime in the mid-90’s in a village near Koidu in northern Sierra Leone. Whether his legs were horribly misshapen at birth or were the result of a congenital disease is not known. Below his knees, his legs angled out and bent back at the shin. His ankles were parallel to the floor, causing his feet to hug the floor at an angle. Walking was difficult and painful.
His mother fled shortly after his birth, possibly to escape being labeled a “demon” for giving birth to a child with such deformed legs. Sahr’s father was killed by rebels during the violent civil war in Sierra Leone. The young boy was supported by his stepmother for a while. He wanted to go to school, but there wasn’t enough money for that. Instead, his stepmother wanted him to use his disability to beg in the streets. He refused to do that and ended up becoming a street kid anyway. Occasionally his stepmother would let him stay with her.
Essentially homeless and without love and support, he was drawn to a man who was training local teachers to include the disabled in their schools. This man showed a fatherly interest in Sahr, encouraged his desire to go to school, and even arranged for him to have a wheelchair. But he was unable to fully support Sahr because he was struggling to support his own family.
A radio announcement alerted Sahr’s stepmother that a Mercy Ship would soon be docked in Freeport. An advance medical team was scheduled to be in their area to hold a preliminary screening for potential patients with problems like Sahr’s. She took him to register at the government hospital for the screening, and he was among the first to receive a Mercy Ships appointment for surgery.
When they got to the transport vehicle, however, Sahr’s stepmother told him she wasn’t able to be his caregiver. Without a caregiver, Sahr would not be able to have his surgery. Digba, a woman who was accepted for a surgery of her own, agreed to be his caregiver. She traveled with him to the ship and stayed in the HOPE Center as he awaited his surgery. When Digma went home, Mariama, the mother of his buddy Tamba, became his caregiver.
The volunteer doctors performed two complicated surgeries to repair Sahr’s legs, using pins that will help his legs become straighter as he grows. Sahr was delighted to be a Mercy Ships patient. For the first time in his life, his needs were being supplied – a clean hospital bed, three meals a day, caring nurses and state-of-the-art medical care from some of the world’s finest surgeons.
He also thoroughly enjoyed the many weeks he spent recovering at the HOPE Center, making friends with the other children. After surgery, he would bounce on his hospital bed, slapping his hands on the mattress. When asked why he did that, he would respond with a big grin, “I’m just happy to be here!”
Several weeks of post-operative care were necessary to help Sahr learn to walk on his newly straightened legs. The physiotherapists worked with him on exercises to build his lower leg muscles and to train his knees to face forward without collapsing into each other. Much of this was painful, but he accepted it with gratitude, while building relationships with the medical team working with him.
After about five months, it was time for Sahr to leave. But no one would be waiting for him back in his village. He needed the security of a home, the love of parents, the opportunity to attend school – the provisions of life. The Patient Life Department, concerned about his future, located an orphanage started by Mercy Ships crew members. The Mercy Orphanage agreed to provide a loving home for Sahr. He will have a mother and father, as well as several new brothers and sisters. Also, he will attend a local private school, thanks to a scholarship donated by a couple of Mercy Ships volunteer crew members.
Friends recovering at the HOPE Center gave him a grand send-off as two Mercy Ships Land Rovers filled with crew members from Patient Life and other concerned departments drove him to his new home. The children, including his new bunk-mate, Sheku, welcomed him warmly.
Somewhat at a loss for words, Sahr said, “Thank you. It’s fine here. I like it. Thank you.” But his jubilant smile revealed the joy in his heart as he waved goodbye to his Mercy Ship friends and began a new life.
Story by Elaine B. Winn
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Tom Bradley, Debra Bell, and Liz Cantu,