“He’s doing much better than yesterday,” Nick remarks, as he gently inclines five-year-old Lucrech’s thumb toward the pointer finger.

Nick is Lucrech’s physiotherapist onboard the Africa Mercy, and they have been spending a half hour together every day since his surgery. They work on exercises that will bring full function back to Lucrech’s right hand.

Today, Nick believes Lucrech is ready to touch each of his fingers to his thumb. It seems a small distance to cover – but, for Lucrech, it’s a milestone.  One by one, nurses and patients gather around the pair, and a sheepish grin sweeps across the little boy’s face.

You see, three years ago, while reaching for his brother’s toy, Lucrech tripped, plunging his arm into a pot of boiling beans over an open fire.

Mercy Ships volunteer surgeon, Dr. Tertius Venter, explains, “To treat an acute burn wound in the First World, we would quickly do a skin graft before a contracture forms. We’d treat it with physical therapy and occupational therapy, and then splint it. But, in many parts of Africa this is just not available. The only way that the body can heal itself and prevent infection is by pulling everything together to close the wound up.”

A few months ago, Lucrech decided he’d had enough of school. He couldn’t handle the negative attention anymore. His classmates ridiculed him because he could not write or throw a ball. His mother, Nadja, recalls, “He loves to play games, especially soccer – but he had to play alone.”

Today, the deep, fire-etched scars on the five-year-old’s right hand go unnoticed. The people gathered around Lucrech and Nick are too busy celebrating a true showstopper – those five freed fingers that can move, stretch, grasp, wiggle, point and tickle!

Nadja comforts her son with a pat on the head as he tries to touch his thumb to his ring finger…two down, two more to go. She is beaming from ear to ear and clapping her hands in expectation. When the two fingers touch, everyone bursts into applause, exclaiming, “Très forte, Lucrech! Très forte!” [Very strong, Lucrech!]