Oceane's miracle

Volunteer doctor examines Oceane at screening session in Cotonou, Benin, in February 2009
Volunteer doctor examines Oceane at screening session in Cotonou, Benin, in February 2009
An encephalocele is a neural tube defect leading to a bulging mass on the head
An encephalocele is a neural tube defect leading to a bulging mass on the head
Mercy Ships surgeons are top doctors from all around the world
Mercy Ships surgeons are top doctors from all around the world
Oceane recovers in the Hospital Ship ward after receiving free surgery.
Oceane recovers in the Hospital Ship ward after receiving free surgery.
Mercy Ships staff take excellent care of their small and vulnerable patient
Mercy Ships staff take excellent care of their small and vulnerable patient
For the first time, Philomen can hold Oceane without worrying acutely about her health
For the first time, Philomen can hold Oceane without worrying acutely about her health
Philomen holds her daughter tight as they dream of the better life ahead
Philomen holds her daughter tight as they dream of the better life ahead

Baby Oceane underwent a complicated operation to remove a "second head" resulting from a birth defect. She's low living life to the full.

One-year-old Oceane had an encephalocele - a rare neural tube defect characterized by a sac-like protrusion of neural tissue through opening in the skull. A small gap, only 1.4cm wide, was the root of her problems. It allowed cerebrospinal fluid to escape from her brain and collect in the ballooning skin in the back of her neck, which formed the disturbing second head.

Her mother, Philomen, had brought Oceane to a Mercy Ships medical screening in February last year (in Cotonou, Benin). Upon evaluation surgeons thought they could help her. They planned on removing the mass and placing a small tube in her brain called a shunt. The shunt would drain excessive fluid from her head into her abdomen. But the earliest surgical opening wasn’t until October. Philemon would spend seven months at home waiting for Oceane to receive surgery.

During that time, Philomen faced great discouragement. As the bulge continued to swell simple things like bathing Oceane began to scare Philomen. "When I gave her a bath, I never washed her head. I was scared the tumour would explode and the baby would die." Others began to mock Philomen saying, "Look at the horrible baby she has," whenever she went outside. "I never replied," she said. "I felt very ashamed and always stayed in the house".

Despite the discouragements around her, Philomen never lost hope that Mercy Ships could help Oceane.

On Sunday 14 October she brought her to the Africa Mercy. The following day, a CT Scan of the brain would reveal if surgery was possible. The CT Scan spawned further discussions amongst the medical staff on the risks versus the benefits of her surgery. But finally, the medical team decided she could receive an operation. On the following Thursday afternoon, Oceane was taken into an operating theatre on board the Africa Mercy.

In the recovery room, while the nurses listened to her lungs and connected to her to a heart monitor, Philomen came to the bedside. When she realized the mass was gone, she was speechless. All she could do was stand by her bed and hold Oceane's hand.

Three weeks after her surgery, Oceane came to the Africa Mercy for her final post-op appointment. Holding a smiling and laughing Oceane, Philomen greeted us with an enthusiastic "merci, merci, merci beaucoup!".