When Sambany came to us, he said he felt “dead inside.”
The man trembled up our gangway and did something extraordinary . . . he changed our lives while we were changing his life.
Over the next few weeks, his name was spoken across the Africa Mercy’s eight decks, thousands of tears and prayers ascended to God, and social media exploded with his story. What was so special about Sambany?
Around 36 years ago, a tumor began to consume Sambany’s life. It became a monstrous burden, weighing 16.45 lbs. (7.46 kg) – equivalent to two extra heads. After nearly three decades as a maxillofacial surgeon, Dr. Gary Parker, Chief Medical Officer, says, “It’s one of the biggest tumors of this type that I’ve seen.”
The tumor caused unrelenting discomfort. Sometimes it felt “hot like fire.” Sambany said, “I cannot sleep at night, and even during the day. It heated me up. When walking, it’s too heavy. I have to hold it.”
The tumor was also an emotional burden. Family and friends rejected him, mocked him, laughed at him, shunned him. Some thought his condition was contagious. Harsh words were flung at him: “Why are you still alive? No one can help!”
Hopelessness defined his life. The search for help required traveling hundreds of miles and included ten hospitals (only three of which had surgeons) and a witch doctor … with no success. Sambany’s poverty blocked any other option. His despair reached new depths. He says, “I was waiting to die. I could not do anything. Every day, I was just waiting to die.”
So, Sambany’s world shrank to the size of his house, his only place of safety and peace.
Eventually, he became so weak that his life became a monotonous cycle of waking, sleeping, eating. He felt useless, and it was hard to watch his family laboring in the rice fields while he wasted away. They were poor, and money spent on trying to help him was money unavailable for food.
Sambany’s main companion was the radio. One day he heard an announcement that resurrected hope: a hospital ship that could treat tumors for free was coming to Madagascar. In spite of his weakness, Sambany told his family, “Die or survive, I want to go!”
It was a journey that only a desperate man would attempt. The closest road was several days away; the ship was hundreds of miles away. Sambany struggled to walk around his house. How could he survive such a journey? But his family recognized his desperation and determination. They sold a rice field to pay for the journey. Five people took turns carrying him on their backs for two days. Then Sambany endured a painful six-hour taxi ride … but he made it.
Due to multiple health concerns, Sambany’s surgery would be extremely high-risk. For almost two weeks, he rested as the medical team determined the best course of action.
Meanwhile, his story spread throughout the ship. It made its way into our community meeting, when all were asked to pray. It appeared as signs on doors, asking us to pray and to give blood. It lent its voice to concerned requests for updates. It travelled into people’s dreams, dampened many a tissue with tears, and prompted some to go hungry as they fasted for this stranger from a country far from their own. Sambany penetrated our lives.
Then, with one word, Sambany’s entire life was changed. After a lifetime of hearing, “No, no, no,” he was delighted when the medical team said yes to performing the difficult surgery. Sambany was well aware of the risks. “I know without surgery I will die. I know I might die in surgery, but I already feel dead inside from the way I’m treated. I choose to have surgery.”
The surgery took a whole day, and over twice of his body’s volume of blood was lost and replaced. Our crew, our living blood bank, literally poured life into Sambany. The blood of seventeen people from six nations now runs through his veins.
Dr Gary described the surgery: “Oftentimes, in operations, you have high-stress moments where you’re in the middle of something – where, in that moment, if something goes wrong, you could lose the patient from a severe hemorrhage or something. With Sambany, it was pretty much high pressure the whole twelve hours of the surgery.”
The end result? Sambany was finally free from the burden that had weighed him down for nearly two-thirds of his life! And the ship exploded with people praising God. We had helped transform Sambany, and he had transformed us.
A group of us watched breathlessly as Sambany looked at himself in a hand-held mirror … seeing himself for the first time without his tumor. With his head wrapped carefully in bandages, he looked into the mirror and said, “I like it. I am happy.” Later, he added, “I am free from my disease. I’ve got a new face. I am saved!”
Story written by Eunice Hiew
Sambany came to us carrying a heavy burden – a tumor the size of two heads.
When we met Sambany, we took him by the hand and led him onboard for a CT scan. He had waited 36 years to find someone who could help.
Due to multiple health concerns, Sambany’s surgery would be extremely high risk. Our team was meticulous in choosing the best course of action.
Numerous tests were performed, including a CT scan, in order to determine whether the surgery could be done.
Sambany awaits The Decision. “I know without surgery I will die. I know I might die in surgery, but I already feel dead inside from the way I’m treated. I choose to have surgery.”
The crew is a “living blood bank.” 17 volunteers from 6 nations donated blood. During Sambany’s surgery, over twice his body’s volume of blood was lost and replaced.
Dr. Gary Parker said, “With Sambany, it was pretty much high pressure the whole twelve hours of the surgery.”
Sambany takes his first look at his tumor-free image in the mirror. “I like it. I am happy.”
After a while, Sambany’s hand became too tired to hold the mirror up by himself. So volunteer nurse Marta Chase (USA) held the mirror and his hand.
From the moment Sambany stepped into our lives, the crew showered him with love and acceptance.
Flavy, Sambany’s grandson, stayed faithfully by his grandfather’s side.
Sambany comes back to our outpatient clinic regularly for check-ups.
To watch a short video about Sambany, click here.