A Break From Tradition

23 January 2013

Greetings!  I got to spend a bit of time down in the Hospital this morning... and I loved it.  I don't get down there often, but when I do, I love the reminder it gives me as to why I'm here and the life-changing work I get to be a part of every single day.  You are a part of that, too, my supporters, friends, family, and readers - enjoy.  K

A Break From Tradition

Habibatou and Mamadou had never experienced this much joy and sorrow at the same time. Their first baby was a precious gift from God that made their hearts almost burst with love. Their daughter was perfect in every way – with one troubling exception. She had a malformation that split her lip, causing one side to grow up toward her nose. The parents had never before seen anything like this, and they did not know what this meant for their daughter.

They did know that deformity meant hardship. Many people would think their daughter was a bad omen. Mamadou’s first wife had already laughed spitefully at the news of the baby’s condition. Other torments were sure to follow. Could Mamadou and Habibatou keep their child hidden like so many did when there was an obvious physical problem?

After praying with Habibatou, Mamadou bravely decided to break from tradition and speak out about his daughter’s condition. He asked the people in the village if they had seen an upper lip like his daughter’s. No one, not even the elders, had ever seen anything like this.

When Mamadou called his brother Musa with news about the baby’s problem, Musa’s response was surprising. “Mamadou, do not worry. There is a ship coming with doctors who help babies like yours. They have done many surgeries, for free, to correct this problem.”

The good news gave the family much hope. The naming ceremony for Habibatou and Mamadou’s little girl was a joyful occasion. Their daughter was named Batouli, after her grandmother. It was a fitting honor for Habibatou’s mother, who had supported her son-in-law’s speaking out about the baby’s problem.
Mamadou arranged for Habibatou and Batouli to stay at Musa’s home in Conakry and find out more about the hospital ship. Habibatou recalls the experience. “We did not know for certain when this ship would come or if the doctors could help. I was afraid, but I had faith for the sake of my daughter.”

Habibatou’s faith was well-founded. The hospital near Musa’s home confirmed that Mercy Ships would be screening patients for surgeries the next week. Habibatou spoke softly, “I was grateful to learn from the hospital nurse that Batouli’s condition was called a cleft lip and that Mercy Ships did these surgeries. She said that Mercy Ships would take very good care of Batouli and that Musa was right – Mercy Ships did not charge any money for doing the operation.”

By noon on screening day, Habibatou was clutching a Mercy Ships patient card for Batouli. For the next eight weeks, Batouli was seen by volunteer dietician Jessica King in the Infant Feeding Program. Jessica reported on Batouli’s progress: “At her weekly check-up I was so pleased with Batouli’s weight. She stayed on track for her surgery date!” Habibatou loved to hear Jessica’s weekly report. As each week passed, her daughter was moving closer to having her cleft lip repaired.

On the day of Batouli’s surgery, Habibatou prayed for all to go well, and it did. Within a few hours, she was holding her daughter in her arms. Habibatou spoke on behalf of her family, saying, “We are so grateful that our break from tradition brought us to Mercy Ships. This break has changed our dear Batouli’s life.”

Batouli was born a perfect baby girl in every way except for the malformation of her upper lip. Neither her parents nor any of the people in her village had ever seen a baby born with a cleft lip.

Batouli’s mother, Habibatou, had faith that the hospital ship her brother-in-law talked about could help her daughter. She said that, “I was afraid, but I had faith for the sake of my daughter.”

Batouli’s health status is checked at the Admissions Tent before surgery, and she passes with flying colors. Batouli stayed on track in regard to body weight throughout the eight weeks she was part of the Infant Feeding Program – thanks to her mother’s milk and endless care!

A few short hours after surgery, Batouli is once again in the loving arms of her mother, Habibatou. Instead of an angry gash, Batouli’s upper lip is transformed into the usual contour. Within a short time, the adhesive strips, stitches and puffiness will be gone, and Batouli’s healing will be complete.

The courage of Batouli’s parents, Mamadou and Habibatou, to break from tradition brought their daughter to Mercy Ships. According to Habibatou, “This break has changed our dear Batouli’s life.”

Volunteer Dietician Jessica King is pleased to see little Batouli for her final check-up before returning home. Batouli is a picture of good health!

Batouli’s only memory of her time with a cleft lip will be this photograph. As she grows, Batouli will enjoy a life of acceptance . . . thanks to her transformative surgery provided free of charge by Mercy Ships.

Written by Joanne Thibault
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Bright Effowe, Debra Bell

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