Girl, six, starts school after life-changing surgery in Senegal

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Six-year-old Mariama from Sedhiou in Senegal, West Africa, was just four when her legs began to bend outwards

Anna Bassler, Physical Therapist, works with Mariama in the ward after her surgery.

DAKAR, Senegal, March 20, 2023/ — A mother who feared her daughter could never go to school and thought her bowed legs were incurable is calling her transformation by a surgical charity ‘a miracle’.

Six-year-old Mariama from Sedhiou in Senegal, West Africa, was just four when her legs began to bend outwards.

Her mother, Sifaye, said: “When I noticed her legs like that, I was really worried. I wasn’t able to sleep enough. I was so scared.”

Mariama’s condition worsened as she grew, and her mother was concerned she would face more and more isolation. She could not run and jump like her friends and became self-conscious.

“Her friends laughed at her because she couldn’t walk fast or run, she was always behind,” Sifaye added.

Her parents made the difficult decision to keep her out of school.

Sifaye, a mother of four, said: “The school is so far, that is why I didn’t send her there. Because she can’t walk a long distance without complaining that she was tired. If she went to school, she wouldn’t be able to walk back home.”

The family sought hard for a cure for the next year but found nothing.

Her mother said: “During that period, we tried every type of medicine, but nothing changed. When we took her to the hospital, they told us that they can’t cure her.”

They were told that her legs would likely continue to curve for the rest of her life.

Mariama, 6 year old orthopedics patient, in the ward with her mother Sifaye.
Mariama, orthopedics patient, with her mother Sifaye, in her village in the region of Sedhiou.

A year later, in a village two hours away, Sifaye’s brother Mane heard about Mercy Ships, an international charity with two hospital ships that deliver free surgeries to those with little access to safe medical care. He met a member of the charity’s patient selection team assessing potential surgical patients.

Mane said, “He told me they would offer free surgeries for patients. He showed me photos of people they had already treated. The pictures of the previous patients convinced me. I wished the same for my niece.”

He immediately told his sister.

Despite the fact that Sifaye was full of fear and had never travelled more than two hours from her home village, she travelled two days with her daughter to get to the port of Dakar, where the hospital ship the Africa Mercy was docked.

Sifaye said, “I was absolutely afraid of taking her [Mariama] to the ship.”

She said the first few days were constant bouts of homesickness, but the team on board quickly made them feel at home. For the first time, they also met children with conditions like Mariama’s.

“I was happy to meet other mothers who knew what I was going through, and it was good for Mariama to see she was not alone,” Sifaye said.

Volunteer orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stan Kinsch from Luxembourg, who treated Mariama, says that bowed legs can occur due to malnutrition.

Mariama, orthopedics patient, with her mother Sifaye, in her village in the region of Sedhiou.

Unfortunately, due to inadequate medical access in some African countries, the condition is more prevalent on the continent compared to other parts of the world.

“In developed countries, these conditions are treated early so they don’t require surgery. But here they are recognized late, and appropriate treatment isn’t available, so they develop into extreme forms,” said Dr. Kinsch.

After surgery and three months of physiotherapy, Sifaye and Mariama were ready to go home.

Mame Birame Sy, Rehab Day Crew, and Dean Hufstedler, Rehab Team Leader, walk Mariama to the in-patient treatment room for her cast removal.

When Sifaye saw her daughter’s straight legs for the first time, she was overwhelmed with joy.

Mariama, 6 year old orthopedics patient, walks to the gangway with her mother Sifaye and ward day crew.

She exclaimed, “I was so surprised; I thought her legs would always be bent for the rest of her life. Seeing them like that today was wonderful. We were never going to afford to get her surgery, so this is a miracle for us.”

Mariama has now successfully started school.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Mercy Ships.

Notes to editors:
Mercy Ships operates hospital ships that deliver free surgeries and other healthcare services to those with little access to safe medical care. An international faith-based organization, Mercy Ships has focused entirely on partnering with African nations for the past three decades. Working with in-country partners, Mercy Ships also provides training to local healthcare professionals and supports the construction of in-country medical infrastructure to leave a lasting impact.

Each year, more than 3,000 volunteer professionals from over 60 countries serve on board the world’s two largest non-governmental hospital ships, the Africa Mercy® and the Global Mercy™. Professionals such as surgeons, dentists, nurses, health trainers, cooks, and engineers dedicate their time and skills to accelerate access to safe surgical, obstetric and anesthetic care. Mercy Ships was founded in 1978 and has offices in 16 countries as well as an Africa Service Center in Dakar, Senegal. For more information, visit and follow @MercyShips on social media.

For More Information Contact:
Saran Kaba WAGUÉ
APO Group

Mercy Ships

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