Noma no more for Namina!

A healthy baby girl at birth, Namina Yillah suddenly began to see swelling in her face at 18 months old. One morning the swelling covered her eyes and Namina’s mother Wara knew she had to wrap her child in a blanket and rush her to the hospital.

For a week, Wara walked daily to the hospital with Namina on her back. But despite injections, the tissue around Namina’s cheek quickly deteriorated, leaving a gaping hole.  Soon, her exposed cheek bone emitted a pungent odor. 

This malicious flesh-destroying bacteria, called Noma, especially targets children in countries where malnourishment and undernourishment are rampant. Aggressively, the disease began to sap Namina’s life. 

Wara and her husband lived day-to-day on a meager income spread thinly to provide for their seven children.  Suddenly Wara’s world imploded further when her husband died from an illness. 

Now, despite rising early to gather firewood to sell, Wara often had little money to buy enough food for her children. Little Namina’s fragile life lay in the balance. 

In desperation, Wara’s brother drove them to Lungi hospital where doctors transferred Namina to the Aberdeen Clinic in Freetown, built by Mercy Ships several years ago.  There, Dr. Sandra Lako, a Dutch doctor who grew up onboard the first Mercy Ship, the Anastasis, began regular wound care. Slowly the consistent attention arrested the infection and stabilized Namina’s life.

For three years, Dr. Sandra checked up on Namina. Then, she heard that the newest vessel of Mercy Ships, the Africa Mercy, would dock in Freetown. She knew the doctors onboard the ship would be able to help five-year-old Namina because she had witnessed the successful treatment of Noma as she grew up onboard. Dr. Sandra made the arrangements and the ship’s medical team scheduled Namina for free surgery to rebuild her face.

Wara recalls, „Doctor Sandra always encouraged me to wait for the Mercy Ship. If she never come into my life, I give up on life.“


Walking onto the ship proved to be an overwhelming experience for both Namina and her mother.  The strange surroundings and uncertainty of everything enveloped them with fear. Accustomed to ridicule, Namina instinctively withdrew to protect herself. Eyes on the ground, she remained unresponsive even in her native language.

When it came time for her surgery, the doctors began a complex medical procedure involving cutting a flap on her scalp and gathering tissue to pull through the cheek to fill the hole in her face.

Through the compassionate and skillful hands of maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Gary Parker, the love of the crew nurses, and the persistent care of Dr. Sandra Lako, Namina slowly began to smile. And Wara’s dreams for her daughter’s future are emerging once again.