In a coastal city in eastern Madagascar lives a 12-year-old boy named Romino. A decade ago, Romino received orthopedic surgery on board a floating hospital ship, the Africa Mercy®, which corrected his bowed legs at the age of just 3 years old. Today, Tilos, as he is fondly called by those close to him, is a walking testimony of the dedication of the Mercy Ships volunteer crew who bring hope and healing to people living in many countries across sub-Saharan Africa.


Romino’s mother’s eyes light up when she speaks about her son, who now runs around and plays effortlessly. Looking back many years earlier, she recalls the first moment she noticed that something was wrong with her son’s legs: “He didn’t have bowed legs when he was born. But his legs started to change when he was two and a half years old,” said his mother, Claudia. “When he started to walk, then we really noticed his legs changing gradually, and we wondered if he had bowed legs.”

Claudia continued observing him and noticed his legs becoming more bent as he grew. This worried her, so she sought help from a traditional doctor who recommended leg massages as a cure. Claudia had hardly spent a month following this treatment plan when she heard that Mercy Ships was coming to her country to provide free surgical care for children with conditions like Romino’s.

“The massage didn’t even last a month; we were doing the massage when they (Mercy Ships) came and I decided that I would take him for surgery,” Claudia said.

Nearly a decade later later, she remains delighted as she watches her son grow up experiencing a normal childhood like any other child in Madagascar.

“I really want him to be a doctor,” she said with a broad smile. “That’s what I’ve always wanted for him.”

Romino says he, too, wants to become a doctor, “because I want to give people the same healing that I received.” This desire to become a doctor is something that Romino says he has long wanted for himself, without any prompting from his mother.

“He said that he wants to become a doctor, so we want the same thing. I always had that in mind, but I’ve never told him because I felt he’d refuse and only do what he likes,” she added with visible joy.

Romino, who currently lives with his grandmother in a nearby small town, attends a secondary school where he is in septième – the last class of primary school in Madagascar.

“Since he’s been with me, he’s either first or second in class and really likes to study,” said his grandmother, Helene. “He’s a nice kid and behaves well back home.”

When asked to explain how the surgery to correct Romino’s legs changed his life, Helene and Claudia say that watching him get bullied by other children because of his bowed legs was the most painful experience for them.

However, once he had received surgery, everyone who knew him was left in awe because they hadn’t believed his legs could ever be straightened.

“People are surprised when they see him, because no one believed that he would look like this,” Claudia said gleefully. “They thought he would have the same legs. However, he’s like this now and they even ask, ‘Is it you? Is this Tilos? Is this Tilos?’” Claudia added with a laugh.

Romino still has visible scars on his legs after the surgery, but those scars are a reminder of the love he was shown by a team of volunteer doctors and nurses – and a reminder of how different his life could have otherwise looked.


Written by Hansel Ngala

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