In his short life, Momoh had never lived a day in a healthy body. The day her son was born, his mother, Mariatu, noticed a small boil about the size of a bead on the baby’s back. She thought it was a rash and left it alone. By the next day, the boil had grown to the size of her fingertip.

“Every day the child slept,” Mariatu said, “the boil grew.”


Sierra Leone villagers blamed Mariatu for her son’s illness. The elders of the village told Mariatu she should not have bathed outside at night while she was pregnant. They explained the evil spirits are out at night. Momoh was not even considered to be a human being by her neighbors.

When he was 3 months old, his mother took Momoh to a local hospital. Staff there said they couldn’t do anything for the little boy and referred him to another hospital, which also could not provide help. But hope came when she learned of the charitable organization, Mercy Ships, which provided free surgeries. The ship was scheduled to return to Freetown in six months, so Mariatu registered for the screening process.

As Momoh grew, the tumor grew. The weight pressed down on the little boy’s back so heavily he couldn’t push himself up. He never learned to crawl. Wherever the two went, they were ignored or, worse, scorned. Even at the medical screening, a woman also waiting in line told his mother, “If this child were mine, I would have thrown this child away.”

But his mother would not believe the lies she was repeatedly told. “I won’t throw this child away. This child is a human being.”

Momoh and mom

Finally, the date of Momoh’s surgery on the Mercy Ship arrived. It took nearly an hour and a half, and the tumor was described as the size of the child’s head. The disease, neurofibroma, is common, but in his case, the tumor grew unusually large – at a very rapid pace. Before the surgery, Momoh weighed about 16.5 pounds. But after the operation, his weight was around 11 pounds and was he was severely malnourished.

“It was a growth that would have depleted him of his own food,” Dr. Tertius Venter of South Africa said. “Now he should thrive. If the tumor hadn’t been removed, Momoh would have died.” Since the tumor was one-third of the little boy’s weight, his system needed to adjust. His body was pumping blood for the entire 16.5 pounds.

Through an interpreter, his mother explained: “It’s like I was carrying a load and somebody just took the load.”

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