Meet Sambany. A third of his 60 years have been consumed by a tumour that has slowly been growing from his neck. The tumour is now massive; it is a burden that represents 19 years of misery and disgrace.

Because of the tumour, he had stopped praying. He didn’t believe that he would ever have relief. “One year ago, I was waiting for the time, I was waiting to die. I could not do anything. Every day, I was just waiting to die.”

Then, near the end of 2014, a friend told him, “There is a ship, Mercy Ships. You can go there and be fixed.” He decided to take the chance and set out with his grandson, Flavy, for the port city of Tamatave, Madagascar, where the medical charity’s hospital ship Africa Mercy was docked.

For three days they walked and walked until they finally reached a town with a paved road. They rested there for some time and then took a four-hour car ride to finally reach the port city.

Despite the odds, Sambany saw the hope, he made the journey, and he dreamed that something might actually change this time.

When he arrived at the Africa Mercy on the 21st January 2015, the screening team quickly rushed him inside for a CT scan. It was one of the biggest tumours the Mercy Ships team had seen in its 37-year history.

Days of careful, fervent and prayerful discussion followed as the Mercy Ships medical team pored over his results and health condition; due to complications, it was uncertain whether Sambany would receive surgery.

After many days of deliberation, the medical team and Sambany reached a decision. Knowing the risks, they would go ahead with his surgery. Was Sambany nervous the day before his surgery? Not at all, he said. “My heart is very, very happy. I’m very happy. I’m just happy.”

“I know without surgery I will die. I know I might die in surgery, but I already feel dead inside from the way I’m treated. I choose to have surgery.”

Sambany was going to lose a lot of blood during his surgery and, on this ship, the crew is the blood bank. A small army was called to donate blood to Sambany before, during and after his surgery.

Although the people directly involved in Sambany’s surgery within the operating room numbered eight, the true number of people involved was in the hundreds. The hospital staff, all the ship’s crew, the local volunteers, hundreds dedicated themselves to loving one man. Together they fought a battle against this tumour. It was a historic moment for the Africa Mercy.

After 12 hours of surgery, around twice as long as planned, the 7.46kg tumour Sambany carried was finally removed. When he awoke after his surgery, he said, “When I have recovered, I want to repay you, because I am very happy, because I am saved.”

Ever since Sambany’s surgery, the question that has been ringing around the Africa Mercy is: “How is Sambany?” So we asked the man himself. “I am free. I am well. I am free from my disease. I’ve got a new face,” he said.

Sambany will remain with the ship for many months of recovery, but today he is a new man and he is happy.