The first woman to coach an elite men’s football club in Sierra Leone has appreciated the national team boss John Keister after he funded a life-saving operation to amputate her leg.

Pioneer Victoria Conteh, who played for Sierra Leone women’s national team in 1994, made history when appointed coach of men’s top-flight side East End Tigers ahead of the 2019-20 season.

Described by Keister as “like a sister” and a “trusted lieutenant“, the 48-year-old first began experiencing an issue with her left foot in July 2022, going on to lose a considerable amount of weight as a result of the gradually developing pain.

It started like a boil on two of my toes and was itching,” Conteh tells BBC Sport Africa.
I didn’t take it seriously until I started feeling pain.”

It was Keister who first advised Conteh, who is also a policewoman, to see a doctor.

I went to the police hospital in Freetown and was treated.
“After some time, I started feeling pain again and it got severe for close to four months,” she added.

Seeing that I had lost weight and was deteriorating, John took me to a doctor. After the diagnosis, the doctor told us the reason for the pain was because my foot had been badly infected by a poison I stepped on.

I don’t know where and when it happened but it was really painful.”

Surgeons amputated Conteh’s leg in November last year. Once again, Keister was involved, breaking news of the decision to operate.

It was John who the doctor first told about how severe my condition was,” says a tearful Conteh.

The best thing to do to save my life was to amputate my leg.

“When John called me on the phone and told me about it, I nearly collapsed. I can’t even explain how I felt at that moment.

“I was feeling pain inside. Even when my daughter brought me food, I wasn’t able to eat.

“I didn’t have the courage to break the news to her and my two sons. It was a sad moment for me.
“But it’s the will of God, I have to accept it.”

Keister says he funded Conteh’s treatment because of the close bond the two have built up over the years.

She’s one of my trusted friends and a trusted lieutenant,” says the 52-year-old, who guided Sierra Leone to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.