If not for his surgery this morning, Elodie’s son, Emmanoel, would have died by suffocation before his third birthday. A tumor in his mouth cut off his airway to the point that he was passing out three times a day. Emmanoel’s shallow and labored breathing sounded like a perpetual asthma attack. Every breath he took made those around him feel restless and eager to do something.
His parents Maurice and Elodie were out of options and resources, and their son was almost out of time. Now losing consciousness three times a day, they feared that, eventually, he would pass out and not wake up again. Soon Maurice was no longer the only one up each night – Emmanoel could not sleep either. His body would wake him up, gasping for air. The result was a sleep-deprived, short-of-breath toddler sitting in his weary father’s lap.
Between sleepless nights at home, Maurice worked in Pointe Noire’s shipping port. On a hazy Friday in early August, he saw an unusual ship pull in – it was rumoured to have a hospital on board.
Emmanoel was scheduled for surgery on board the Africa Mercy, and within a few day, he became one of the first patients in Congo. “I don’t know how he survived this long; I really don’t,” Dr. Mark Shrime, Emmanoel’s surgeon, said during the operation.
In his adult-size hospital bed, two-year-old Emmanoel looks even smaller than usual tonight. He’s hooked up to lots of beeping machines. Elodie sits at his bedside like a determined watchdog. Maurice has gone home for the night to care for Emmanoel’s older brother and sister.
Emmanoel has never been able to speak. When he had the tumor in his mouth, he could only make certain noises. He called Elodie “ch-ch-ch.” “I can’t wait to hear my son say my name,” Elodie says.
That night was the last sleepless night for Elodie. Today, she is well-rested and energized by the sound of her child’s voice. In just three weeks, Emmanoel has become a different child, smiling on the dock in the arms of his doting parents. With each day, Emmanoel continues to heal and grow and breathe. He has learned to say three words in French, starting with mother and uncle. He isn’t able to say father yet, but Elodie insists that Maurice doesn’t mind. Instead, Maurice is happiest to hear Emmanoel say the word demain, which means tomorrow.