Imagine being born into this world struggling to breathe. It’s been nice and warm inside your mother’s stomach for nine wonderful months and all of a sudden you are thrust into bright lights gasping for air.
Born in Kpalime, Togo at the American Baptist World Evangelist Hospital (ABWE), that was exactly Kossi’s experience. There are many countries across the world where Kossi could have been born, but God chose a primitive African setting to be his home.
Not many Togolese babies are lucky enough to be born in hospitals. It was a blessing that Akoua, Kossi’s mother, was able to give birth to him under the care of a doctor. Akoua struggled during labor and required a c-section. The moment Kossi was brought into this world, there were complications.
There was a cystic lesion on the topside of his tongue that made it twice the size of a normal newborn baby’s tongue. He was unable to get proper nutrition because he was couldn’t suck to breastfeed. If the lesion was not removed Kossi could starve to death. Dr. Russ Ebersole of the ABWE Hospital knew that Kossi needed treatment beyond what he could provide. Dr. Russ picked up the phone and called his friends at Mercy Ships.
Rachel Dix, Mercy Ships Screening Coordinator, picked up the phone. She was precisely the Mercy Ships crew member he needed to speak to! Dr. Russ explained Kossi’s situation to Rachel. She checked with the ward supervisor and asked the surgeons if they could squeeze a newborn baby into their very tight schedule. Dr. Leo Cheng, a maxillo-facial surgeon on the ship from Cambridge, England, agreed to do the surgery. Rachel called Dr. Russ and gave him the go-ahead. Just a few hours after entering this world Kossi and his parents received approval to come to Lomé and be admitted onto the ward of the Africa Mercy for surgery.
Overwhelmed and still recovering from a C-section, Akoua tried to soak in the news. In a span of a few hours the doctor had told her that her newborn needed immediate surgery. In order to get the care he needed, she and her husband, Kodjo, would have to travel three hours to the capital city of Lome to get to the hospital. A hospital which, oddly, was on a ship. That was a lot of information to absorb.
One blessing was that Kodjo was a taxi driver. As soon as Akoua felt strong enough to travel, they loaded up the taxi with the precious new life God had given them, and headed south on the open road.
A few hours later the couple pulled their car onto the dock of the Africa Mercy. They’d never seen anything like it in their lives.
“It was so tall. And bright white. We’ve never even been to a port,” said Kodjo, “We were told the ship was leaving soon, so we arrived as quickly as we could.”
Rachel was notified of their arrival and walked down the gangway to meet the adorable bundle of joy. She greeted the parents, and then took Kossi in her arms. She walked them onto the ship and then down into the Hospital.
Kossi was welcomed and immediately adored by every single nurse on the ship. It was so exciting to have a newborn on the ward. Kossi and his parents settled into in the ward--Akoua and Kossi snuggled up in one bed and dad just next to them.
Surgery day was upon them and the nervousness on Akoua’s face was evident. It is not common that a five-day-old baby has surgery, especially on a ship! But she knew it was necessary for his survival. And she trusted Mercy Ships—they had been so kind to her since she arrived. “Regardless,” she said just before sending her precious baby into the operating room, “This is our last child.” Insinuating that the stress of Kossi’s medical condition was enough for them to handle.
Kossi was carried into the operating room, and Dr. Leo performed the surgery. Everything went great and there were no complications. A few hours later precious little Kossi was back in the ward snuggling with his mother. The only trace of surgery was the handful of blue stitches dotting his flat tongue.
Kossi and his mother stayed in the ward for a week to ensure a complete recovery. On his rounds, Dr. Leo checked in with the infant. Dr. Leo explained Kossi’s situation, “The threat of this lesion was very serious. Because was tongue convex [and not concave like a normal tongue] he couldn’t breast feed at all. That was the first problem. The second problem was that if the lesion grew larger, it could shut off his airway.”
During recovery, the nurses taught Akoua a new method to feed Kossi. Used by babies with cleft lip and/or palate, the cup method is a way to ensure the formula gets into the infant’s body without him/her spitting up the food. By the end of the stay on the ward, Kossi was drinking from a small cup, and even taking a bottle.
The time came for Kossi and his parents to return to their home near Kpalime. Dr. Russ at the American Baptist World Evangelist Hospital had requested that they check in with him when they return from the ship. The collaboration between ABWE and Mercy Ships is a wonderful relationship that has saved many lives. Five-day-old Kossi will not remember his time on Mercy Ships, but his parents will never forget their live-saving visit to the big white Hospital ship.