Akissi’s hope returns

Akissi is a spirited teenager. Her gleaming white teeth brighten her contagious smile. Some things get lost in translation, but not Akissi's gregarious behavior. When asked for a photo, she swiftly poses with clenched fists showing off her buff arms - accompanied by her award-winning smile.

However, Akissi's life has not always been filled with smiles and laughter. She grew up in a rural village in the northern part of Togo. From a family of farmers, she learned to work long days under the brutal sun at a very young age.

At sixteen she moved to Cote d'Ivoire to live with her new husband. When she went into labor with her first child, she struggled for several days before finally going to a hospital.

She received a cesarean section, but to no avail - her baby died before seeing the light of the world. Devastated by the loss of her baby, Akissi also faced the loss of bladder control. Her condition is called vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF) and is caused by damage resulting from obstructed labor. VVF is common in countries where there is little or no obstetric care.

At this point, Akissi’s husband no longer wanted her, and he sent her home. During the long journey from Cote d'Ivoire to her village in northern Togo, Akissi did her best to cover up her condition. But the others on the bus noticed the foul smell coming from her. Humiliation added to her heartbreak.

Finally back with family in her village, Pkaple, Akissi struggled to endure everyday life. Her vivacious personality dulled, and her head remained bowed in shame.

Then Akissi heard on the radio that doctors from Mercy Ships planned to visit a clinic near her village to see women with a leaking problem like hers. She attended the patient screening and received a date to make the journey to the hospital ship in Lomé. Excitement and hope filled her young heart.

Mercy Ships arranged transportation for the women from Togo’s northern areas to get to the harbor in Lomé. When Akissi arrived, the bustle and busy-ness of a large city almost overwhelmed her, but she remained focused on her hope that in a matter of days she would have her life back.

VVF surgeon Dr. Steve Arrowsmith performed surgery on Akissi. When the nurses removed the catheter a few days later, Akissi no longer leaked. For the first time in 18 months, she was dry!

A few days later Akissi took part in a Mercy Ships ceremony honoring the women who had successful surgeries. The sounds of drums, clapping and singing echoed through the ward as the women filed into the room in traditional African dress. Akissi wore a new cobalt blue gown with touches of golden yellow. Joy lit her face.