Then, after the family story was told in the Real Britain colomn, 200 Daily Mirror readers donated money for MJ to have surgery privately. One of them, 23-year-old entrepreneur Chris Manessis, raised £26,000.
Chris, who until now has been known as The Anonymous Helper, says: “MJ is close to my age and I found it hard seeing someone who had all the possibilities in the world not being able to realise those hopes and dreams because of a heart condition. It was too sad.
“I really just wanted to help someone my age get back on to his feet.”
When I first met MJ last year his options were running out. His wife Karis, 23, had just launched a GoFundMe page in desperation to try to raise the £45,000 his surgery would cost privately.
MJ came to the UK nine years ago on a medical visa but a Gambian charity funding him collapsed. Since then he has been in limbo – not able to have the operation he needed and constantly facing deportation. His MP Richard Burden lobbied the Home Office to no avail. After MJ’s story was in the Mirror, Karis’ blog was viewed and shared 50,000 times. Donations added up to £12,000.
Karis says: “It was astonishing but not enough. We thought, ‘We’ve come all this way but still can’t afford the operation’.”
A few days later, the couple were contacted by Chris, who offered to make up the rest of the money. MJ and Karis couldn’t believe it until Chris came to Birmingham from his home in West London and went with them to meet MJ’s doctors.
The consultant said MJ needed an operation immediately. He had arrived in the UK with one leaking heart valve after suffering rheumatic fever as a child but now had three leaking valves. His heart was enlarged and there was damage to the aorta. There was no time to lose. MJ was in surgery for 14 hours on June 1 as surgeons battled to mend his heart. The operation saved his life.
Three months later, while he was still recovering, Karis realised she was six months pregnant. The stress she was experiencing had masked any symptoms.
Last week, the reluctant hero Chris spoke about his donation. Like MJ, he is an immigrant, from Switzerland.
Chris is studying coding and works for the Swiss tech company behind goodwall.org, which helps students showcase their community work to universities.
He said he had seen the article on Facebook and wanted to stress that he had raised the money for the operation, not given it all himself.
Chris says: “London is full of opportunities. I like the way it is a city full of foreigners sharing traditions. But I live in an area of London where people spend a lot of money on themselves. They might spend £100,000 on a car or on jewellery.
“I wanted to get involved and support an individual where money could make a difference. I hope to encourage other people to do the same – to find people who need help and to give it to them.”
He says that meeting MJ has inspired him and adds: “MJ’s story is full of struggle and I found it pretty motivating.
“He never gave up – just kept fighting for his life. What really pushed me to help was seeing he was just a little bit older than me. He was someone just left sitting on the bench because he couldn’t do all the activities I do.
“I gave the money I gave but 200 other people were touched by his story, too. And the money that they gave was just as important. Any donation is a great donation.”
MJ is now desperate to work and support his family but he can’t because of his immigration status. He has been inspired by Chris, too, and his ambition is to open a computer repair shop in Birmingham if the Home Office ever grants him leave to remain in the UK.
But the Home Office is still trying to deport MJ – although he is now a husband and father to a British wife and son and will need follow-up treatment for the rest of his life that is unavailable in The Gambia.
The Home Office said: “All immigration cases are considered on their individual merits, including any compelling and compassionate circumstances and in line with the immigration rules. An appeal is ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
MJ’s next hearing is on March 17 in Solihull. He has won his right to life but now faces a fight to be with his wife and son in Birmingham.
As Karis watches MJ with Gabriel, she adds: “He is such a great father. After everything we have been through we just need him here with us, safe and well.”]]>