Naserry was always a happy child, the kind of girl who brings joy to a room just by entering it. To describe her personality, her aunt, Salamatu, simply laughed and responded: “She likes to talk!”

Salamatu has held onto high hopes for her niece, who dreams of becoming a lawyer one day. She refused to stop dreaming big for Naserry, even after a childhood accident, during which Naserry fell into a cooking fire, left her with severe burns and limited use of her right elbow, wrist, and pinky.

Naserry’s burn contractures made school difficult both physically and socially. Other students would tease her for having just one fully functioning hand, although Salamatu contended that Naserry could do more with one hand than they could with two. Outside of the classroom, Naserry felt the implications of looking different. She had trouble making friends and would hide her arm behind her back or a bookbag to avoid teasing. “At lunch, I don’t go out to play,” she shared.

Had Naserry been able to access surgical care immediately following the accident, the outcome would have been different, shared Dr. Gracious Sankulani, who would later assist on the teenager’s operation onboard the Global Mercy™. In fact, she would likely never have needed surgery at all. But in their home country of Sierra Leone, where 75% of the population has insufficient access to surgical care and estimates of unmet surgical need reach more than 90%, her family couldn’t get Naserry the treatment that she needed. Instead, without proper care and physiotherapy, Naserry spent the next nine years with limited use of her dominant arm.

Yet despite these tremendous challenges, Naserry and her family refused to give up. “I want her to continue her education,” said Salamatu, who was determined to do whatever it took to see healing for her niece. She believed it was possible. After all, she had seen a neighbor’s hand healed from a similar condition before, when the Africa Mercy® visited Sierra Leone in 2011. She moved Naserry into her home in Freetown, where they waited faithfully for the ship to return and bring hope and healing with it.

In 2023, their hope was fulfilled. Mercy Ships returned with its new floating hospital, the Global Mercy – and Naserry became the very first female patient to board the ship in Sierra Leone.

In the operating room onboard, it took just two hours for the reconstructive plastics surgical team to repair Naserry’s burn contractures. Regaining her mobility would take a further two months of challenging physical therapy, during which time Naserry dreamed about the life ahead of her and celebrated her newfound confidence.

“People used to laugh at me… No more laughing at me again—I won’t be teased and provoked anymore,” she determined. “I will be excited when I get home, even though I will be very sad on the day I leave the ship.”

Naserry’s happiness was contagious to everyone around her, reminding those like Dr. Sankulani, a surgeon from Malawi being mentored on board, the life-changing value of safe surgery. Naserry was the very first patient he treated onboard. “You can see the brightness of her face. How she’s doing now—it’s quite fascinating… You can see the impact,” the surgeon shared. “We are expecting a good quality of life to be restored and hoping her life to be better now.”

Before leaving the Global Mercy, Naserry marveled at her newfound ability to move her right arm freely for the first time in nearly a decade: “Sometimes, I even ask myself if I’m in a dream, but I know I’m not dreaming. It’s reality.”

Now fully healed, Naserry is back at home and in school – and one can only imagine how she’s continuing to brighten every room with her contagious joy.