Vernel is too cute to be angry with and now he knows it.
Vernel is a wily 6-year-old patient who is probably up to something that he’ll get away with. Why will he get away with it? Because it’s too hard to stay mad at him. When he looks up at you, with his lovable, mischievous, grin, he mesmerizes you with his sweetness and your only conscious thought is about how darling he is. Were you about to reprimand him? You can’t remember.
I call this The Vernel Effect.
Vernel’s story began in a fishing village eight hours from Congo’s port city of Pointe Noire. The cleft on the right side of his upper lip revealed his pink gums and front teeth as it stretched up to his nose. Vernel has been bullied for looking different, his dad says. The other children in their village teased him to the point he would come home crying. This baffles me…who could possibly have the heart to make Vernel cry?
I met Vernel when his father brought him to the Africa Mercy for surgery. In an environment where cleft lips are embraced, I watched Vernel quickly come into his own. He never had to worry about being teased here; the staff doted on Vernel from the moment he stepped into the Admissions Tent. We made him balloons, we let him play with the Djembe drums, and we discovered that he is a total clown in front of the camera. On this ship in Africa, Vernel finally found his audience: 350 people who see beyond his deformity. By the time surgeons repaired Vernel’s cleft lip, he’d forgotten he had it.
But there is one thing you can’t let yourself forget about Vernel: he is a ninja when it comes to tickling.
That mischievous smile on Vernel’s face is there for a reason. First, he will curl up in your arms or give you a hug or a drooly kiss. Then, in accordance with The Vernel Effect, you will let your guard down. And that’s when he’ll strike. Think you’re not ticklish? Think again. Vernel has no mercy – especially if you have recently tickled him. This is a 6-year-old with an appetite for vengeance.
Sadly, Vernel couldn’t stay here forever. I was part of a team that drove him home. Today, Vernel is doing great and, might I add, looking quite handsome.
I loved watching this little boy realize his charm. I know Vernel won’t be the last patient to undergo a transformation here.