A „human chain“ filled with compassion
Grace, 17 years old, was the very first patient selected for our Congo field service. But the way she became connected to the Africa Mercy was quite unusual.
Maybe you wonder how we find our patients? Most of them are seen during patient selection days organized at various places in the visited country. But in Grace’s case, it took a „human chain“, all the way through Switzerland, to make the connection between Grace and our hospital ship.
The first „link“ was made by Grégoire, a chaplain who met Grace at a hospital in Kinshasa in August 2012. Shocked to discover her but deeply touched by the encounter, he adopted her in his heart and regularly visited her.
He found out that at the age of 11, Grace suffered from an inflammation on her jaw and went through two operations. Both were unsuccessful, and the doctors gave up, as there was nothing more they could do for her.
The tumor grew, distorting Grace’s face. There was a tiny glimpse of hope that a clinic in Milan, 5’500 kilometers away, would operate on her, but it sounded complicated and would cost several thousands francs.
Grégoire spent many hours alongside Grace at the hospital, comforting her. He says she was often so distraught that she cried all night.
In Summer 2012, Grégoire met a Swiss pastor, Jean-Claude. Back in Switzerland, Jean-Claude wrote about Grace in his newsletter that soon „landed“ in Martine’s hands, a former Mercy Ships crew member. Immediately Mercy Ships came to Martine’s mind because they often performed this kind of surgery, so she recommended him to contact the organization’s office in Lausanne.
Christophe from our office made the link with the ship and Grace’s medical records were sent to Esther, a nurse in charge of the patient selection on the Africa Mercy. She submitted the case to Dr. Gary Parker, Mercy Ships’ chief surgeon and a highly skilled maxillofacial specialist. The perfect connection was made!
At that time, the ship was located in Conakry, 3’500 kilometers away, making the trip still very expensive. Fortunately, the Africa Mercy was scheduled to arrive in Pointe-Noire six months later, reducing the distance between Grace and Dr. Gary to onlyâ€¦ 385 km!
Grace had her first operation on September 10th, 2013 and Dr. Gary removed a 2.2 kilogram tumor from her face. Another surgery was performed in December and a third one is planned for mid-March that will improve her appearance even more.
Grace’s surgeries have been made possible thanks to a chain of individuals who were deeply touched by her story. Grégoire, Jean-Claude, Martine, Christophe and Esther, all now rejoice for the wonderful transformation of her life, and the little part they played to make it happen.
Soon, Grace will return home where she hopes to begin school again. Like many of our patients, she is thinking of studying medicine to become a nurse.