Sampson has a sweet, infectious smile. But it’s not the first thing most people notice about him. That’s because Sampson, a 15-year-old from Liberia, has neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition that has caused large tumors to grow on his face. And that’s only the most visible challenge he’s endured in his young life. As an infant, Sampson was abandoned by his mother. Two years ago, Ebola took his father’s life. Sampson's condition, which he’d long been told was caused by witchcraft, made him an outcast in his village.
But things are changing for Sampson. He recently arrived in Minnesota, where he’ll receive treatment from a team of physicians at Mayo Clinic. They’ll remove much of the large growth on the left side of his face. They also hope to remove tumors growing around his right eye, which are threatening his eyesight. “This surgery will change his entire life,” Kim Allen, one of Sampson’s “host mothers,” tells us. She says the surgery “will be like a miracle for him.”
How Sampson got to Minnesota is something of a miracle in itself. A friend of Sampson’s father asked a Liberian friend living in the U.S. if there might be a way he could help Sampson. That friend saw a tweet posted by MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren about her upcoming trip to Liberia, and he responded with a tweet of his own. Could she help Sampson, he wondered?
After seeing a picture of Sampson, Van Susteren “was hooked,” she writes on a Go Fund Me page she launched to help fund his care. She worked with Samaritan's Purse, an international relief organization she’s long supported, to find a way to connect Sampson to the care he would need. That eventually led to Mayo Clinic, which also has a history of supporting children through Samaritan’s Purse. (You can read about two of those children here and here.)
As you might imagine, Sampson has experienced a bit of culture shock since arriving in Minnesota. “He’s come from a village with no electricity or running water to a city, and then into a medical system like nothing he’d seen before," Kim tells us. "It was pretty overwhelming to him.” He’s also had to adjust to a new climate. “The first time Sampson touched snow, he thought it was cold sand,” Frank Allen, Kim's husband, tells us.
Frank, who works in the Office of Staff Services at Mayo Clinic, says that while Sampson was initially quiet and reserved, he has “really started to open up. It took him a while to trust us and know that we love him unconditionally.”
The Allens aren’t the only ones showering Sampson with love. After Van Susteren put out a call on social media for get-well wishes, hundreds of cards came his way. His doctors at Mayo Clinic also have proven to be a great source of comfort by reassuring him that his condition was caused not by witchcraft but by a medical problem they’d seen in other patients. “When he heard that, he let out a big sigh,” Kim tells us. Seeing his relief made Kim even more excited to see Sampson’s response after surgery. “I can’t wait to see the expression on his face when he looks in the mirror. For him, it will be like a miracle, and to see him see that miracle will be a prize.”
You can follow Sampson’s story on Van Susteren’s Facebook page, where she posts regular updates. Then share your comments below before you use the social media tools to share this this story with others.