Romeo's mother, Badokideou, wanted to know why his lip looked the way it did and how she could fix it. She was told to go to the hospital in Lomé. A kind stranger at the hospital told her about Mercy Ships. This was a place – a ship – where she could go to receive free medical treatment, including cleft lip and palate surgeries.
Romeo arrived on the Africa Mercy when he was one week old.
It was determined that surgery could correct Romeo's condition, but he had to gain weight first. He was enrolled in Mercy Ship's Infant Feeding Program. Because of the cleft lip and palate, it was difficult for Romeo to get the breast milk he needed to grow. The milk went into the hole in the roof of his mouth, causing him to spit up. Thus, he was not getting the nutrition he needed, and he weighed only 2.61kg (5.75 lbs).
Romeo's before picture. When he arrived at Mercy Ships he weighed 2.61kg.
Infant Feeding Program Nurse, Melissa Davey, worked with Badokideou, teaching her an alternative method of feeding. The cup method worked best for Romeo. Mercy Ships provided the formula that Badokideou fed to Romeo through a small plastic cup. Since he was not sucking to get his food, there was less spitting up, and more of the formula went into his stomach.
Time passed and sure enough, Romeo gained weight. He began to look healthy and strong. Romeo and Badokideou came to the ship once a week, and Romeo weighed-in and got measured. Then, they were given enough formula to last them the week, until they came back to the ship. He made steady progress, and Nurse Melissa Davey was confident he would be able to have surgery.
Romeo has gained enough weight to have cleft lip surgery!
She was absolutely right! Romeo reached his goal weight, and a Mercy Ships volunteer surgeon performed surgery, repairing the cleft lip.
Even after the surgery, Badokideou continued feeding Romeo via the cup method, yielding great results. Happily, Romeo has grown to 6.13 kg (13.5 lbs). Romeo still has a cleft palate that will have to be repaired at another time, but the Infant Feeding Program at Mercy Ships has given him a healthy start to life. If Badokideou had not been taught an alternate method of feeding Romeo, he would have suffered from malnutrition, and his health would have declined drastically.
Romeo Touloulou after he has been a part of the Infant Feeding Program at Mercy Ships.
Romeo sitting with his mother, Badokideou, in the Infant Feeding room.
Thanks to Melissa and the rest of the Infant Feeding Program team, Romeo will have a chance at a healthy life. He was lucky to have been born at a time when the Africa Mercy was in port in Lomé, Togo. He had perfect timing, and now he is a healthy and happy five-month-old boy.
Romeo with Infant Feeding Program Nurse, Melissa Davey.
Cute hat, Romeo!
Story by Claire Bufe
Photos by Melissa Davey