For Cécile, a 26-year-old tailor, the birth of her second son, Josué, was a momentous occasion. The tragic memory of the death of her first-born child was slightly alleviated by the arrival of a second joyful baby boy. Yet, after only six weeks, Josué’s health, too, deteriorated, and Cécile became fearful of losing another child.
A milky layer began to form over both of Josué’s eyes, affecting his vision. Cécile did not understand what was happening to her newborn son. Her husband and family were also baffled. Her in-laws decided that the only possible explanation was that Cécile was cursed. Because this was the second of Cécile’s children to experience health problems, her in-laws were convinced that she had brought evil into their house. So, they told Cécile to leave and return to her own parents.
Distraught and confused, Cécile left the house with Josué. “I became very anxious and felt completely helpless and depressed,” she said. “My in-laws accused me, but never did they question that, if this was a curse, could it possibly come from their own son – my husband?”
But Cécile did not return to the house of her parents. Instead, she remembered an advertisement she had seen on the television about an organization called Mercy Ships. Deep down, she believed that somebody onboard the “big ship” in Cotonou could help her. And she was right!
After a four-hour journey in a taxi to the busy streets of Cotonou, Cécile and Josué ventured onboard the Africa Mercy where Dr. Glenn Strauss, Senior Vice President of Health Care Initiatives and a renowned ophthalmic surgeon, assessed Josué’s tiny, clouded eyes. The conclusion was that Josué had bilateral congenital cataracts and would require surgery in order to save his sight. “The cataracts were not grossly obvious, but they were certainly there from birth,” said Dr. Strauss.
Josué is the youngest patient to receive cataract surgery in the history of Mercy Ships. At only three months old, there were certain risks in attempting the surgery. “Children under one year of age have an increased risk in eye surgery, particularly relating to the cornea and the inflammation of the eye,” Dr. Strauss explained. “It’s a microsurgical procedure, and an eye that is half the size of an adult eye increases the challenge of surgical manipulation.” He continued, “But it’s better to do this surgery sooner rather than later to decrease the chance of amblyopia (lazy eye).”
A few days later, Cécile sat with Josué in her lap as Dr. Strauss examined the results of the delicate procedure he had performed to remove the cataracts. The outcome was extremely positive. “Josué was in very good health, which is important because congenital cataracts are often associated with many other congenital complications – such as heart, lung, and neurological problems,” said Dr. Strauss. “His eyes were properly aligned, and there was no involuntary movement. It looked like he would gain good vision during recovery.”
Now that Josué’s cataracts have been removed, Cécile says the family is happy again, adding, “This situation has surprised them and made them realise that it was not definitely a curse.”
The clouds that covered Josué’s eyes have lifted. The work of Mercy Ships has given a young boy a bright future and has restored his mother’s hope. “My heart is refreshed and calm,” Cécile said with a smile. “I pray that this child will become a great man and care for me in my old age.”
“I’m very thankful for Mercy Ships. What the enemy said about my baby was stopped. God changed things. He used a specialist to help my baby. May God be glorified, and may this work continue and be a blessing to many people. I believe that this ship is the glory of God,” Cécile concluded.
Written by Richard Brock
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photographs by PJ Accetturo & Megan Petock