Abel kicking a football following his operation. PICTURES: Courtesy of Mercy Ships.
2nd December, 2010
Abel is an exuberant eleven-year-old from Togo, West Africa. He’s friendly and curious – and, like most boys his age, very active. Abel has an infectious smile that lights up a room. But for most of his young life, people did not notice his smile. The only thing they saw was his shocking disability. Abel’s legs bent backwards at the knees in an astonishing manner.
Abel as he was before the operation.
The problem started following an injection in his early childhood. Abel’s muscles stopped growing while his bones continued to develop. Without sufficient muscular support, his legs began to bend backward at the knee, forcing his upper thighs out behind him. His parents took him to three doctors, but none of them knew how to correct his disability.
To make the situation even worse, Abel’s physical deformity made him the target of ridicule from his classmates.
Dr Frank Haydon, a volunteer surgeon, encountered Abel at a Mercy Ships medical screening.
“I first saw Abel out of the corner of my eye, and my heart stopped,” says Dr Haydon who performed six surgeries on Abel’s disfigured legs. Like all Mercy Ships patients, Abel received the care free of charge.
More than four months after arriving on the Africa Mercy, Abel took his first steps with straight legs. It was soon time to go home. Back in Abel’s village, word quickly spread that the boy with the backward legs had returned. Everyone was curious about what the doctors had done.
The suspense ended abruptly when a very happy Abel climbed out of the Mercy Ships vehicle – with two straight legs. There were gasps of surprise, disbelieving stares, and cheers. After a hug from his mother, Abel kicked a soccer ball for the first time since his surgeries.
Mercy Ships performs 10-month field services in developing West African countries. The hospital ship was Abel’s only hope. Abel is one of thousands who suffer from lack of adequate health care in developing nations like Togo. In fact, in Togo there is only one doctor for every 25,000 people.
Abel’s story also illustrates why Mercy Ships focuses on medical training to build capacity in poor countries. When local doctors receive advanced medical training, they will have the tools to cure more patients in the future – patients who will not have to wait for years for a Mercy Ship to visit their country.
Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries. Each year Mercy Ships has over 1,200 volunteers from over 40 nations. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, health care trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. Mercy Ships seeks to become the face of love in action, bringing hope and healing to the poor.