Grace, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, went under the knife on the Africa Mercy, a huge hospital boat operated by the Mercy Ships charity
A teenager who could have suffocated on a football-size tumour on her jaw has had life-saving surgery – thanks to the work of the world’s largest hospital ship.
Seventeen-year-old Grace, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, would have eventually died if the aggressive bone tumour had continued to grow.
The huge tumour was growing from the centre of the jaw bone – formed by cells that usually make the enamel of teeth.
Miraculously, Grace was still able to speak and eat but was so self-conscious that she stopped going to school.
After local hospitals failed to help, charity hospital Mercy Ships admitted Grace to perform the four-hour surgery to remove the teenager’s tumour, lower jaw and teeth.
Grace had been suffering from the tumour in her lower jaw for ten years as it gradually increased in size.
Together with her mother she went to the local hospital to get help – but doctors remained baffled by her condition and offered no treatment.
Grace said: “It started from a little swelling inside and the gums started growing little by little.
“We went to hospital and they didn’t know what it was – they did nothing.”
Grace’s mother Christine was left to watch her daughter suffer and had no idea who to turn to for help.
Christine said: “I didn’t know what to do – in hospital they just talked a lot but did nothing.”
Grace said: “I was sick, I was always indoors, I was not happy anymore, I worried all the time.”
Eventually Grace was discovered by a Christian pastor who campaigned to get her medical help.
The pastor posted Grace’s story on the church website and a reader told them about Mercy Ships.
Mercy Ships operates the world’s largest hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, a converted Danish rail ferry, providing free healthcare services to some of the neediest people in the world.
Sixteen hundred volunteers, including doctors, nurses and teachers from the UK and other countries, provide their time for free each year.
Once on the ship, Grace was given a CT scan to allow the surgeons to see the tumour and plan the surgery necessary to remove it.
Surgeon Dr Gary Parker said: “When it grows where it is in the mouth – as it expands it pushes the tongue into the back of the throat and that’s when they get into airway crisis where they can’t breathe.
“Ultimately if she wasn’t treated she could die from suffocation.”
The bottom of Grace’s jaw and her teeth had to be removed along with the tumour during the risky surgery.
Dr Parker added: “To remove the tumour we had to open the neck to allow access to the jaw and separate the tumour from the normal jaw.”
After cutting away the football sized lump Dr Parker replaced the removed jaw with metal plates made of titanium.
Dr Parker said: “When she heals six months from now she can have artificial teeth if she wants.
“That will help her with her chewing – appearance-wise and functionally she should be able to have a normal life.”
Grace’s life has been completely transformed by the surgery.
With her new-found confidence, Grace is hoping to study medicine and pursue a career in nursing so that she can help others with complicated medical conditions in the future.
Grace said: “They made me happy – now I want to study and help other people.
“I would like to work on the Mercy Ship to help people for free, like they have done for me.
“It made a really big change because of the way my face was.
“It changed my life – now my face is good.”
Judy Polkinhorn, executive director of Mercy Ships UK, said: “Grace’s story is a perfect example of the incredible work that the volunteers onboard the Africa Mercy carry out on a regular basis.
“We are hugely grateful to the volunteers who donate their time and immense skill to help change lives like Grace’s every day.”
Grace’s story will appear in a new series of Body Bizarre, which airs every Thursday at 9pm on TLC.