Ly Cheick, a 24-year-old Guinean student, was in the prime of life with plenty of dreams for the future. However, he had a problem — one that was only getting worse over time. He had noticed a bump growing in his mouth that was becoming more and more visible.

In 2020, after a recommendation from his doctor, he decided to pay a visit to the dental clinic in Gamal Abdel Nasser University. The newly renovated clinic, led in partnership between Mercy Ships staff and the university’s administration, has become an epicenter of training and hands-on learning in the port city of Conakry, Guinea.

Thanks to donated state of the art medical technology, the clinic’s team was able to provide a panoramic radiograph and determine that the cause of Ly Cheick’s swelling was a maxillary tumor. While the tumor was slightly larger than a golf ball at this stage, it had already begun to cause discomfort and affect Ly Cheick’s quality of life. Left unchecked, it would have continued to grow unabated.

Dr. Raphiou Diallo (L), Guinean Maxillofacial Surgeon, examining a tumor in the mouth of a patient named Ly Cheick.

With a diagnosis in hand, Professor Raphiou Diallo — a long-time partner of Mercy Ships and a local maxillofacial surgeon — was able to perform life-changing surgery to remove Ly Cheick’s tumor.

“He is fortunate that there is a panoramic X-ray machine that has been installed at the university which currently makes it possible, at a very low cost, to establish the radiological diagnosis in particular tumors,” said Dr. Diallo.

A straightforward journey to healing

Because his case was caught and treated early, the 24-year-old has a straightforward recovery ahead of him. He hasn’t had to drop out of school or stop working because of the tumor’s effect on his health. In many ways, he is one of the lucky ones.

Unfortunately, this happy ending hasn’t always been the case in this context. As Professor Diallo explains, many patients in Guinea aren’t able to seek quality medical assistance due to limited resources in-country, a lack of financial means, or geographical distance from care. As a result, many people turn to traditional practitioners who lack the ability to diagnose and treat them properly. In a tragic number of cases, this story ends with inoperable tumors and early deaths. This is exactly the outcome that the dental clinic’s team — including Professor Diallo and our Mercy Ships staff on the ground — is trying to prevent.

The life-changing impact of early treatment

Ly Cheick’s case is a powerful case in point. “It means a big thing to me,” he said of the surgery to remove his tumor. “It means a change in my life. In fact, I am living a new life without a tumor. It makes me happy deep down.”

“I am very proud of what is done by Mercy Ships,” said Professor Diallo. “I am sure that if the project continues, it will enable us to equip the cities of Guinea with excellent dentists, who will not only be able to prevent patients from complications at very advanced stages, but also to diagnose benign and malignant tumors at very early stages.”

Ly Cheick is just one example of the importance of lasting impact in action. While Mercy Ships medical crew typically perform more than a thousand surgical procedures onboard during each field service, our impact doesn’t end when we sail away. Thanks to surgeon mentoring and ongoing training programs, like the dental school in Guinea, the hope for safe and affordable surgery can continue to change lives long after our ships depart.

Ly Cheick, a maxillofacial patient that had surgery to remove a tumor from his mouth by Dr. Raphiou Diallo, after surgery.
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