Mechanic whose toothache turned into tumor has life-changing surgery through charity Mercy Ships 

A 21-year-old man is rejoicing after receiving free surgery from a charity to remove a tumor that had grown to half the size of his face.   

Papa from Western Senegal was just a teenager when he noticed a small lump in his mouth. But despite hospital staff telling him it was just toothache and would heal, it continued to grow, causing him pain and partially blocking his sight. 

The expanding mandibular tumor, a non-cancerous growth originating from tissue in his jaw, jeopardized both the promising motorbike mechanic’s health as well as his future prospects as a professional mechanic. 

His father, Toure, said the growth left Papa in constant pain and affected his self-esteem. 

Toure said: “He was going through a tough situation as a young man who is supposed to enjoy his life. Seeing your childhood friends in good health while you’re disabled is very embarrassing for a child.”  

Papa’s family worked hard to raise enough funds to afford the surgery in a hospital, a challenging task for families where they live. A 2021 study that took place in four sub-Saharan African nations found that 60-90 percent of patients in need of surgery would face ‘catastrophic’ costs if they went through with the operation. 

But just as the operation was about to begin, there was a power cut. Power outages are commonplace where he lives but the experience at that critical moment left Papa with a newfound fear. Afraid the power might falter again during surgery, he reluctantly deferred.  

Aged 21, Papa struggled on with an uncertain future. Although he dedicated his working life to mending and reviving motorbikes, he was finding it harder dealing with the physical pain and discomfort. He fought on as he prided himself on being able to help his parents and support his younger siblings by running a motorbike repair shop with a friend where he provides essential services and trains young men who want to learn the trade.  

He said: “Fixing bikes has always been a passion for me since I was a child. This work has a lot of physical demands; it is harder to do with a tumor in the way.” 

Then in 2022, his friend read online that international aid charity Mercy Ships’ newest hospital vessel, the Global Mercy, would sail to Senegal to provide safe, free surgical care to people in need.  

Papa visited a nearby hospital where a Mercy Ships volunteer medical team was conducting screenings for patients.    

Memories of his previous experience lingered, leaving Papa grappling with conflicting emotions when he was approved for the surgery.  

He said: “I was afraid, but I trusted God.” 

As he woke from surgery, Papa could tell immediately the operation had gone ahead successfully his vision was unobstructed for the first time in years. 

He said: “When I woke up, I didn’t touch it, but I felt the tumor had gone because before, the tumor blocked my sight.” 

His surgery involved removing part of his jawbone where the tumor was growing. The volunteer surgeons then reconstructed his jaw using a metal plate.   

Papa spent weeks recovering in the hospital wards, finding connection with fellow patients and crew members through activities like crafts. “I even made bracelets by myself; I learned it while in hospital. The nurses taught me how to do it,” Papa remembered.  

Paul Kangethe, a volunteer ward nurse from the United States, cared for Papa post-surgery. He observed that as Papa’s physical healing was underway, the transformation became more than just skin-deep.   

Paul said: “The first day after surgery, he was quiet, staying in bed, not interacting, not talking much. But as the days progressed, he was much more interactive and active. It seemed he was much more comfortable talking and sharing.”   

Papa’s friend expressed gratitude when he returned home, healthy and hopeful. He said: “What you’ve done isn’t just for Papa, but also for the community. We were all worried about him. His tumor is gone now, and his health, dignity, and joy are restored. You did this for Papa and the entire city.” 

With his future now secured after years of uncertainty, Papa said after his surgery:  

“I want to go back to work and spend time with my parents and siblings. I’m also young and would like to marry and have my own family.”  

Volunteers transformed Papa’s life. Find out more about how you can be a part of the transformative work happening on board at Volunteer Opportunities (