Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pay Day...

Akou is a precious lady with the most brilliant smile I have ever seen. Her teeth are so perfect, she should be on a Crest Whitestrips Commercial!!!!
Mercy Ships first met Akou at screening in February. She had a large tumor on her neck and shoulder. Our writer and photographer, Joy and Debra, interviewed her. Akou told them that she has only had the tumor for 5 years, and it has grown steadily over that time. She had several scars on the tumor, which she said were from "natural remedies"....essentially a witch doctor who attempted to cure her of the tumor. Obviously, his efforts failed, only leaving her badly scarred.

I met Akou for the first time with Tom while doing Pre-Op photographs. She was very downtrodden and had a look of despair on her face---even despite the fact that she was finally getting checked in for surgery!! (which should have been a joyous time!)

After Joy realized I was writing about her, she showed me the screening photos they had taken. This was brilliant, I thought!! We've covered this patient from step one: screening! Below are photos taken from the screening, and my favorite: Her bright smile when she received her Card which indicated her surgery date!!! She's IN!!

Akou Kewukpo at screening--you can see her tumor and scars from the witch doctor attempting to cure her.

Akou getting registered at Screening.

Waiting in line. Lots of waiting...waiting....hoping....wishing...waiting...

Inside the screening tents. Talking with a translator.

BINGO!!! There's that smile!
"Best day of my life" -Akou

Five months later, Akou went in for surgery with our Max Fax surgeon, Dr. Mark. Once he opened her up, he realized that her tumor was more advanced that previously thought. It had wrapped itself around several nerves and blood vessels. In order to remove all of the tumor, Dr. Mark had to cut the nerves that ran through the tumor. He knew this would have other affects on her body, but he spent a marathon 9 hours meticulously reconnecting every single nerve he had severed.

Akou was wheeled into D Ward after surgery. When the anesthesia wore off, she discovered that she could not lift her right arm. The nerve damage prevented her from raising her arm. She was confused and devastated. I thought the smile was gone earlier---but it was ESPECIALLY gone now :(

Meza & I talking with Akou after surgery. Visibly upset, she told that she couldn't move her arm. "I carry things all day long--for a living. What on earth will I do?" She was very shaken by the effect of the nerve damage.

Days passed and Akou began coping with the situation. Her tumor, which was removed completely, looked fantastic. But she told nurse Ali..."I am not ready to look at the tumor yet. I am still mourning over my arm."

Eventually, Akou's spirit came back. She began working with a physical therapist who has taught her exercises to regain motion. She would pick up beads from her bed and put them in a cup. Back and forth, over and over again.

When I knew the time was right I had something to share with Akou. This was sure to cheer her up. I printed out a large color copy of the photo of her beaming with her Surgery date card, and took it down to her. I told her I had a present for her. {Most of the african people rarely see pictures of themselves, so that is always a treat.}
She looked at me skeptically.

I handed her the picture.
She looked, a little flabbergasted. Absolutely speechless.
Then she broke into a smile.
"Do you remember this day?" I asked.
"Of course I remember it!! That was one of the greatest days."
"Do you remember how you felt that day?"
"I was SO happy. Way more than a small happy, BIG happiness! Oh, I wanted to RUN home. Fast Fast. Get there so that the days and weeks would pass quickly so my date would be here! That's all I could think about"

Then she did something amazing. She whipped out her small, red pocket mirror and gently cleaned it off on her hospital gown. Then, she held it up and admired her neck and shoulder: how beautifully sloped it was---and tumorless!! Then looked back at the picture of her 5 months earlier. She was amazed and consumed with JOY.

"When my hand gets better, I will be jumping up and down with my hands in the air in celebration!"

Then I told her that this picture was on the Mercy Ships website (see blog post here) and that anyone throughout the world could go to the site and see a picture of her. "You're famous, Akou!" She died [of excitement!]. She couldnt believe it!!

Witnessing this moment makes what I do worth it. I can say, with 100% certainty, that was the best moment since I've been on this ship. I dont make a dime being here,  but THIS was pay day.

We wanted to snap a few pictures of Akou and she was eating. Laughing, and eating :)

Beautiful smile! and NO tumor.
She is discharged from the ward and heading to the Hospitality Center.
It's a good day.

***Doctors believe that if Akou continutes the exercises for her arm, she should regain complete movement after one year. It is a very difficult situation to deal with, but given how advanced the tumor was, it was the only option. If not completely removed, the tumor would have eventually filled her lungs and killed her. We take what we can :)


  1. Rachel Holloway VassarJune 16, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    WOW! That is an incredible story.

  2. Pure joy!What a beautiful lady!

  3. Please check for typos. She "cried," not "died." very important!

  4. Great story and wonderful experience.


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