My name is Simone, and this is the story of my youngest child, Israel.

After thirty hours of labour and a last-minute C-section, my son was abruptly brought into the world. But as quickly as he came in, he was taken away by the nurses because I was in such a bad condition. I continued to fight through the night.

When I finally had the joy of laying eyes on my child the following day, I was shocked – I cannot tell you enough how shocked I was. My baby boy’s mouth was torn open at the top!

After the nurses helped me recover, I took my son in my arms, cooing to him, admiring his eyes, and finally giving him the name we had planned on: “Israel, the victorious one.”

My husband and I began to pray and search for a solution. But after months of carrying Israel to different hospitals, we came up empty and exhausted.

Then one day, out of the blue, my husband heard some good news – a hospital ship had arrived to serve our people. I turned to look at Israel and nodded as a spark of hope ignited in my chest. I was determined to try again.

With my son on my back and some food in my bag, I set out, arriving toward sunset on a Wednesday afternoon. It was too late to get in that day, so we slept outside on the ground in order to keep our spot in line. Finally, morning arrived. I awoke from my sleep before sunrise, stretching my weary limbs and giving Israel his bottle of baby formula.

Before the sun got hot, the gatekeeper let in the people in front of us and then turned toward me and smiled. As he ushered us inside the screening centre I breathed a sigh of relief. Even though the lines inside still stretched back and forth across the courtyard, I felt we were safe. I knew that a nurse would see Israel today and that he just might – just might – receive surgery on board the Africa Mercy.

The line moved quickly and before long we were beckoned inside. Israel was examined and weighed and admired. Then a woman in blue motioned for me to come over.

When I sat down in front of her, she smiled at me as if she had some secret to share. I knew then what she was about to tell me. Israel, my son, would indeed receive surgery on board the Africa Mercy.

When he was returned safely back to my arms three hours later, I kept on staring at his mouth – no longer torn, but whole.

Adapted from the translated transcript of a video interview of Simone, Israel’s mother