"The Mercy Ships hospital ship provides state-of-the-art medical care to some of the poorest countries in the world. In addition, the ship’s medical team offers many educational and assistance programs that support these medical services. For example, the Infant Feeding Program aids extremely malnourished infants in receiving vital nutrition.
Babies born with cleft lips and palates struggle to get enough milk. Jessica King, Mercy Ships Clinical Dietitian, explains the primary goals of the program: “My most important objective is to have the babies gain enough weight for surgery in a safe and timely manner. A cleft is a constantly visible deformity, and many times the mothers struggle with how their babies look. We build relationships with the mothers – emotional and social support is very important in encouraging them to continue caring for and loving their babies.”
The Infant Feeding Program helps approximately 20-30 infants throughout a field service. It even assists with weekly transportation costs to ensure that these infants come to the ship on a regular basis. Regular visits are essential to monitoring their progress and assessing any other medical problems they may have.
In addition to babies with cleft lips and palates, other severely malnourished babies are seen as well. They suffer from conditions such as tumors or noma, a gangrenous disease leading to tissue destruction of the face, especially the mouth and cheek. It is vitally important that these children gain sufficient weight prior to surgery.
One of the most common treatments used in the Infant Feeding Program is a natural food supplement derived from the moringa tree. The tree’s leaves are full of proteins and vitamins, and they can be eaten raw, dried, or cooked. The babies gain healthy weight while also boosting their immune systems.
One of the infants currently being treated is Komlan, who came to the ship when he was only 11 days old. The little boy’s 18-year-old mother was abandoned by her husband when he found out the baby had a cleft lip. In the first 11 days of his life, Komlan had already lost weight. After Mercy Ships nurses taught his mother some different feeding techniques, little Komlan was back on track and gaining weight. As a result, he received his life-transforming surgery, and his mother received much-needed support and encouragement.
Baby Atsou and his twin sister Obei are a startling example of the difference a cleft lip can make in an impoverished country where medical care is inaccessible. Atsou was born with a cleft lip, but his twin sister did not have the deformity. When they came to the Africa Mercy, they were five months old. Obei weighed 16 pounds, but little Atsou only weighed seven pounds. Severely malnourished, Atsou received a combination of Similac infant formula and moringa food supplement.
Atsou’s story has a very happy ending. He gained a healthy amount of weight and had a successful surgery to repair his cleft lip. His mother says, “I am so thankful. Now I don’t have to worry about my boy making it. Now he will be strong like his sister. I am just so thankful.” "
Jessica King assesses Atsou on one of his weekly visits.
Twins, Obei (left) and Atsou (right), illustrate the dramatic difference a cleft palate makes.
Atsou is nearly 10 pounds lighter than his twin who weights a healthy 16 pounds.
Atsou suffers from both a cleft lip and a cleft palate.
Atsou gained enough weight and is now ready for surgery.
Komlan and his mother during one of their weekly visits.
Komlan and his mother arrive for surgery. Komlan is now at a healthy weight.
Five-month-old Atsou is severely malnourished, weighing only seven pounds.
Atsou is now ready for his surgery – thanks to the Mercy Ships Infant Feeding Program.
Atsou loves his sister, and she doesn’t even notice his cleft lip.
Komlan after surgery. His mother is so happy!
Komlan gets ready to leave the ship.
Atsou is prayed for by the team before he is discharged.