The day 6-year-old Sira returned from the Africa Mercy® in Dakar, neighbors swarmed their home to see the change.
They knew she had gone away to receive surgery for her bowed legs.
“Some of these people had seen her with bent legs most of her life,” Ibrahima, Sira’s father, explained.
One by one they took in the sight, awed that her legs were now straight. Sira smiled shyly, letting them look. This kind of attention wasn’t new for Sira. She had been getting stares since her legs started curving outward when she was 4 years old.
‘What Can I Do to Cure Her?’
Several times over the years, Sira came home from school crying about the staring and sometimes jeering. Every time, her dad would tell her, “One day, your success will be the thing they talk about.”
Ibrahima always emphasized to his children the importance of school. He felt like his limited high school education had held him back in life, and he wanted better for his children.
“When you don’t have an education, you can’t get a good job,” he said. “You can’t support yourself and your family.”
When Sira didn’t want to go to class, he would insist.
“I knew if she had an education, then it wouldn’t matter what her legs were like,” he said.
He told her to ignore the stares and taunts. But it was difficult for young Sira.
“I was always worried because her friends would laugh at her,” her mother, Binti, said. “Sira was always so friendly, but when people started staring, she became so shy. She wasn’t happy.”
Binti had been trying to find ways to make her daughter feel better ever since her condition developed. She had taken to buying her snacks and sweets, hoping it would compensate for the poor treatment by her friends. “It wasn’t enough,” she admitted.
Although doctors suspected malnutrition was the cause, they hadn’t offered concrete help. The numerous medical visits were also straining the family’s finances. They were small-scale farmers and owned a small shop, so they didn’t have a steady source of income to cover the medical bills.
Eventually, Ibrahima and Binti stopped trying. “I said, ‘When God is ready, he will cure her,’” Ibrahima recalled.
The healing came two years later, when Ibrahima found out about Mercy Ships and the free surgery they were offering for conditions like Sira’s. “We have our neighbor who had already been there, and their child was totally cured.”
Sira underwent screening and was selected for surgery. Her parents couldn’t take her to Dakar, where the hospital ship was docked. Ibrahima was preparing to plant his crops, and Binti had to take care of Sira’s siblings.
So, accompanied by her grandmother Diaite, Sira traveled over 12 hours from their village, Simbadi Balante in South Senegal, to board the Africa Mercy.
After successful surgery to reshape her bones, Sira began a 12-week rehabilitation journey. She needed to relearn how to walk and rebuild strength in her legs. Volunteer rehabilitation team lead Dean Hufstedler started her on bed exercises, and then slowly progressed to exercises on a walker.
“I remember Sira because when we would explain what we wanted her to do, she just swung her legs off the side of the bed and slipped her feet down to the floor, grabbed onto that little walker, and just took off,” Dean said.
It was this remarkable determination and resilience that sped Sira’s healing process along.
Her willful determination was on full display when her casts came off. While other children required help putting on their shoes after rehab sessions, Sira was determined to do it by herself. With quiet confidence and a smile, intent on accomplishing each set of exercises on the path to healing completely, the team would patiently watch as Sira tied her shoestrings.
During her stay at the Hospital Out-Patient Extension (HOPE) Center, a recovery center for patients, she grew to love football.
“We use football a lot,” said volunteer physical therapist Laura Blundell. “The kicking helps with range of motion. It quickly became Sira’s favorite activity.”
The journey back to their village was thrilling for Sira and her grandmother. They couldn’t wait to show off Sira’s legs. Throughout their three-month stay in Dakar, they had been communicating with Sira’s parents by telephone.
“I called them every day and told them not to worry,” Diaite said. “The people here (on the Africa Mercy) were taking good care of us, we had food, we had a place to stay, and Sira was getting help.”
Sira immediately went back to school after she returned. Her experience now is much more positive, to the relief of her parents.
Sira’s healing has lifted a heavy burden from her father’s shoulders.
“It’s very difficult to have your child like that,” Ibrahima said. “You sometimes lose heart to see your child in that situation.”
He believes that her healing will allow her to reach her full potential. He continues to actively encourage his daughter to excel further in education.
“If she studies hard, she will succeed and she will help herself and people around her,” Binti said. “I used to think that her legs won’t change her entire life, but God helped us.”
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