A man who intervened to save a young mum and her baby from certain death in a hospital in Sierra Leone has been nursed back to health by her 26 years later, as he recovers from a major operation.

The extraordinary story began when Dr Keith Thomson, 71, of Winkfield Road, north Ascot, was a volunteer working with medical teams that travelled in 'mercy ships' to Africa to perform life saving surgery.

The doctor, who worked as an anaesthetist at Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, and Ascot’s Heatherwood Hospital, met Catherine Conteh when he visited a hospital in Sierra Leone.

He said: "I heard an 18-year-old girl moaning behind a curtain in the labour ward. They told me she would die because she needed a Caesarian and could not pay the £70 needed to do it."

Mr Thomson paid it himself.

It was the beginning of a great friendship. Catherine moved to Guinea at a time of political turmoil and Keith was able to help again when her husband Augustine was imprisoned by the Government.

He used his contact with a well known television journalist there to get him freed and the family moved to the safety of Perth in Australia.

Catherine and her daughter Regina, now 26 - whose lives Keith saved - are now both nurses. Catherine also has a son Derek, nine, named after Keith's father.

This year Keith - who is a grandfather of two - found that he needed help from Catherine.

He underwent a major jaw operation. His jaw had to be rebuilt using bone from his leg and he and his wife Fiona needed support as he begin his recuperation.

He said: "I rang Catherine from the hospital to ask for help and she came over with four days notice. She had to feed me because my jaw was not working and spent nine days here nursing me."

Dr Thomson spent his holidays for 20 years volunteering on the 'mercy ships'.

He still helps others. In recent years he has regularly visited Uganda, helping fund people who need treatment for disfiguring facial tumours.