The Patient Who Didn’t Need Me

My job around here is to write stories, to give people a sense of the difference free healthcare makes in the developing world. I do this with the hope that somewhere, someone, maybe you, will read about the work Mercy Ships is doing and want to support us. We couldn’t do what we do without our incredible donors. Your generosity amazes me every time I walk down the hospital corridor.

During our time in Guinea, I wrote a lot about a man named Thierno. Thierno was a rising Guinean soccer star until a benign tumor began to grow in his jaw. In the U.S., Thierno’s tumor would have been removed in a dentist’s chair under local anesthesia before it was even visible. On his way out of his dentist’s office, a nice lady at the desk would have smiled and said ‘we’re all good here, I filed with your insurance provider. Have a nice day!‘ Then Thierno would have said goodbye and driven himself to soccer practice. The only inconvenience might have been that his lower lip was numb and puffy.

In West Africa that doesn’t happen. So Thierno’s tumor grew for five years and he had to abandon his soccer career. It grew so large that it inconveniently almost killed him. Almost.

As I was working on Thierno’s story, I struggled with the pressure of giving a voice to a man whose suffering I would never understand. So I asked Thierno what he would say if he was the one writing the story. A week later he met me on the dock with his hand-written first draft. Over the next few weeks we worked together with a translator, and Thierno wrote the beautiful piece I’m about to share with you. You may need tissues.

Thierno taught me lots of things about life, but the lesson from today’s post is this: sometimes we don’t have to give a voice to the voiceless. We just have to give them a pen.

Credit Photo: Catherine Murphy;

        My name is Thierno, I am Guinean.  There is a story I would like to tell you of – it is a story of a man, a football player. This man was young and strong and fit. He played for his hometown’s soccer team as a defender. Then he was struck with tragedy and had no means for healing. Each word that I write today is proof of a happy ending, but I will never forget the five years of the unhappy beginning. This man was me.

Debra Bell: Screening day Conakry - Guinea

The tumor began small on my face. As it grew, I began to feel more and more pain. Within a few months, my health began to decline to the point that I could no longer play football. My mother stopped everything to care for me, she took me to many doctors who were traditional healers and we tried to find a treatment – but nothing worked. My mother became exhausted from worry for her only son. With each month, the tumor grew larger. The creases on her face grew deeper. From behind my deformity, I watched her lose all hope. Then Mercy Ships said they could help.

The atmosphere onboard the Africa Mercy was friendly and loving – the doctors and nurses took such good care of me. Each day, I was happy and comforted in my hospital bed.

Credit photo: Debra Bell: Maxillo facial patient GNC17172_DIALLO_Thierno

I cannot say anything – I do not have the words. I am speechless because I am grateful to God for the doctors that were so competent and able to remove something so dangerous. Because God brought them together, this operation was possible. I will never forget Mercy Ships, and I know that today I find myself in good health by the grace of God.

I am so pleased that the government negotiated the arrival of the ship; I am not the only Guinean who has been blessed by it. There have been many Guineans who were sick and have found their health because of Mercy Ships.

For my part, I don’t know what to say, any word, to Mercy Ships. The humanitarian support that the ship carries for us is unimaginable and inexplicable. I wish I could thank all the staff of the ship, every single person, especially Dr. Gary, who put all of his effort into my surgery. May God protect Mercy Ships, bless Guinea, and all Guineans.

Photo: Debra Bell

Thierno and his aunt.

Photos in today’s post courtesy of Mercy Ships. Taken by Deb Bell.


9 responses

  1. Reblogged this on Found and commented:
    This story is written by my friend, the incomparable Catherine Clark Murphy. It’s a beautiful story about an amazing patient we had in Guinea. I hope you love it as much as I do.

    His… Michelle
    Philippians 1:20


  2. I have no words. I came over here from micey’s blog and have been reading for the last hour. Thank you for sharing their stories and reminding us how much we have to be grateful for and showing us the amazing work happening on Mercy Ships!


  3. Such preCious words and thoughts from a former patient. Thanks for the long hours you put in to make sharing Thierno’s perspective possible! Blessings on you as you continue to write…


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