Edith is beautiful
Dignity restored to a West African teenager
“Am I beautiful?” 13-year-old Edith wondered, as she slowly lifted a hand-held mirror to eye level.
The bulky tumor which had overtaken her face was gone – removed by a doctor at a local hospital. For days, her face remained hidden under a covering of gauze and tape. The hospital staff reassured her she would be beautiful. Now the time had come to remove the bandages.
Excitement mixed with trepidation as Edith finally lifted the mirror high enough to see her face. Tears began to flow. Distorted skin glued shut her right eye and nostril. Scars angled her face. “No,” she thought sadly. “I am not beautiful.”
Edith’s facial tumor began growing during her pre-adolescent years. By the time she reached 13, it bulged to the size of a fist. It began to shift her eyes, nose, and mouth across her face, making it increasingly difficult to eat and breathe and endangering her life.
A missionary couple, Tony and Erica Omoijuanfo, met Edith while passing through her village in Benin. Realizing her life was in danger, they took her to a local hospital. A surgeon, with neither plastic nor maxillofacial experience, agreed to take her case. Although not ideal, it gave Edith hope. If she did not have the tumor removed, she would die.
The surgeon successfully removed the tumor, saving Edith’s life. But back in her village, people could only see Edith’s mangled face. They thought she didn’t even look human.
“No one would come near me,” said Edith. “Everybody used to run away from me. If I drank in a cup, no one would drink from that cup. If I touched something, no one would touch it. I did not have any friends.”
For months, Edith spent her days alone, shut in her room. Her father, Daniel Tahou, was the only person who would sit with her. “She couldn’t play with friends; they used to run away from her because of her face,” said Daniel. He hated watching his daughter suffer.
Meanwhile, missionaries Tony and Erica hadn’t forgotten about Edith. When they learned of the Africa Mercy coming to Benin, they took Edith to the ship’s screening day. After evaluation by a ship’s surgeon, she received a coveted surgery appointment. The surgeon couldn’t promise to make Edith’s face “perfect”; however, he could reconstruct her cheek to dramatically improve her appearance, giving back the use of her right eye and nostril.
Edith received her free surgery on the Africa Mercy. This time after her surgery, she glowed with pleasure at how looked. Her village greeted her in amazement, accepting and welcoming her.
“Before the surgery, people used to say Edith could not do anything,” said her father. “But since she came back from the ship, she looks like a human being. Now she can go to the market, take care of her little brother, and all her friends are here in the house. I want to thank Mercy Ships because they changed Edith’s life!”
Some scars may remain on her face, but Edith is healing in more ways than one. It is clear from the new sparkle in her eyes that her life has begun again.
“When I got back to school, all my friends were happy to see me,” said Edith. “We play together, and I am not ashamed. I do not hide anymore myself in the room like before.”