A mum smiled freely for the first time in nearly 20 years after doctors removed a massive facial tumour – and built her a new jaw from her HIP.
Isatu, 27, first developed a lump on her jaw when she was ten-years-old and it caused her to lose several teeth as it grew, soon taking over one side of her face.
The mum-of-four had difficulty breathing because the tumour was pushing her tongue back into her throat, and said she was often mocked for her looks.
But she was finally able smile fully after a hospital boat operated by charity Mercy Ships docked near her home, and medics operated to remove the mass.
Her jaw was eventually replaced using a bone from her iliac crest – the top of her pelvis – and after three operations she’s home, happy and healthy.
Speaking before the operation, she said: “When I’m walking, I cover my face because when people see me they talk.
“They make fun of me. So when they talk, I’m ashamed. They make me cry.”
Isatu’s nurse Blaire Scmaleberg recalled the moment that, after post-surgical treatment, she gave Isatu a mirror to see her growth-free face for the first time in years.
Blaire said: “As she looked at her reflection, her expression was one of awe.
“It was as if she could see into a whole new future. And despite the swelling from the surgery, her smile still shone through.
“To see that from someone who walked in so quiet and timid and afraid, who is now fully herself, it’s like seeing a new person be born.”
The Creole speaker from Sierra Leone said her amenoblastoma – a rare benign tumour – saw her mocked by strangers when took her children to school or went shopping.
Isatu was so distressed and fearful the benign tumour would suffocate her, she eventually looked for help.
She heard about healthcare services being provided in Guinea by Mercy Ships, a hospital ship charity which cares for the poor.
She travelled 200 miles to Conakry with her sister-in-law and infant son for help.
After meeting with the patient selection team, Isatu was approved for surgery onboard the Africa Mercy.
Dr Gary Parker, the head maxillofacial surgeon onboard the Africa Mercy, said tumours like Isatu’s “are usually benign and not cancerous, but you can die”.
He added: “You can suffocate to death because the tumour pushes your tongue back into your throat until you can no longer keep your airway open.”
Due to the size and placement of the tumour, though, she had to undergo three surgical procedures to remove the cancer, rebuilt her jaw, and smooth out her skin.
The procedure to remove the cancer, in September, lasted five hours, during which she had a titanium jaw fitted and stayed on the wards to recover.
Just three months later, she returned to the theatre to have the titanium jaw replaced with a permanent bone-grafted jaw, the graft taken from her iliac crest.
And this year, Isatu went under the knife a third and final time for plastic surgery, which smoothed out the excess skin left by the amenoblastoma’s removal.
Throughout, volunteer nurses stayed by her side for several days, and helped care for her son.
And when her family saw her for the first time they remarked on her “beautiful smile”, staff said.
Mercy Ships was founded in 1978 and has worked in more than 70 countries, helping more than 2.7 million people for free.