2017 August

Drums beating and hundreds singing, waving and dancing on the dock welcomed the Africa Mercy into port in Cameroon for the very first time, on Thursday (NZ time). Off-duty crew members excitedly lined the rails to finally catch a glimpse of the nation they had been sailing towards for two weeks, and praying for much longer.

Free essential surgery and health care services are offered to the Republic of Cameroon’s people in an inaugural visit from the largest civilian hospital ship in the world. Faith-inspired based charity Mercy Ships has deployed the Africa Mercy to serve Cameroon’s poor for 10 months. The vessel docked in the port city of Douala for the first time today.

During this field service, Mercy Ships intends to provide more than 3,000 life-changing surgeries for adult and child patients onboard, to treat over 8,000 at a land-based dental clinic, and provide holistic healthcare training to Cameroonian healthcare professionals.

The Africa Mercy and its crew of more than 400 volunteer professionals from New Zealand and more than 40 other countries, will provide surgical services and healthcare training to support the local healthcare system, in collaboration with the Government of Cameroon.

All surgeries are offered free of charge to the patients.

The surgeries provided will include removal of tumours, repair of cleft lips and cleft palates, plastic surgery to release burn contractures, hernia repair, extracting cataracts, correcting orthopaedic deformities in children (windswept legs, knocked knees, and other anomalies), repair of obstetric fistulas and provision of dental care. The Africa Mercy is a surgical hospital ship and cannot treat chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, sickle cell anaemia, ulcers, HIV/AIDS, cardiac issues, etc.

Through a joint effort between Mercy Ships and the Ministry of Health, the selection of patients for the general, orthopaedic, plastic and maxillofacial programs took place in May. These patients will be transported to the ship according to the surgical schedule, thanks to the diligent work of the Ministry of Transport.

Training opportunities include individual mentoring for Cameroonian surgeons, nurses and anaesthetists, who will soon be selected. Courses will also be offered in local hospitals in areas such as Essential Surgical Skills, Primary Trauma Care, Paediatric/Obstetric Anaesthesia, and sterilisation of medical equipment, among others.

In addition, the Mercy Ships agricultural team will train participants from local NGOs for a period of 22 weeks in nutritional and ecological sustainability.

Already more than 20 Kiwi volunteers – from nurses and anaesthetists to IT specialists and Mariners, are signed up to use their skills to serve Cameroon’s poor during the field service, which concludes in June 2018.

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2017 August

Ward Nurse Deb Adesanya holds a baby after his surgery

The backstory: Caring for children recovering from major surgery was Deborah Adesanya’s assignment olunteering in the wards aboard the 16,000 tonne hospital ship, Africa Mercy. Some of her most poignant moments were with babies receiving surgery to correct birth defects like cleft lip and palate.  Most of her long-stay paediatric patients were recovering from surgery to straighten their badly bowed legs or plastic surgery for cooking-fire burns. Both operations restore limb movement that will give these children a fresh chance at a decent future.

One of the 26-year-old volunteer’s most memorable patients was a boy named Saidou.

Saidou was three years old when, while working in the fields with his father, a strong wind blew on their camp-fire and it burned out of control. He was badly burned causing severe damage to his arms, chest and neck.

In a developed nation Saidou would have been rushed to an intensive care unit but, like most people in Benin, his family had no access to either medical care or pain relief.  Against all odds and despite the lack of treatment, he stubbornly clung to life. The agonising burns gradually healed, and scarring contracted each joint it crossed.  He grew up with restricted upper body movement and for the following eight years Saidou’s jaw was pulled so tight, he could make only garbled sounds. The little boy was trapped in an immobilised body, unable to speak through the remaining tiny O-shaped mouth. Yet despite the trauma that constricted every part of his life, Saidou was indomitable. He defied pity – endlessly fascinated with the world around him and often creating his own world of make-believe. Somehow this remarkable child was both even-keeled and happy despite all.

After years of saving the family eventually scraped together enough money for treatment which failed. They were demoralised as Saidou’s condition worsened.

When they heard the news that Mercy Ships was coming to Benin to provide surgery and rehabilitation free of charge, Saidou and his parents gained new hope.

After assessment by the one of the ship’s surgeons, Saidou was admitted for complex burns contracture release and plastic reconstructive surgery. He was placed in Deborah’s ward for his long post-operative recovery.

Deb did far more than simply tend Saidou’s wounds to help him heal

The eleven-year-old’s upper body was swathed in casts and bandaged to restrict any upper body movement while his skin grafts healed. ‘I took care of him over a series of shifts,’ explains Deborah. ‘On the afternoon of my third shift looking after him, I felt like we had built a great rapport. He recognised me and we had developed little ways of communicating. He was one of the bravest patients I have ever encountered. He enduredmany IV insertions blood tests, and movement which would have been incredibly painful due to his surgery, yet he hardly ever cried. Some of the treatment he received was painful, yet he was so brave.’

As Deborah and the nursing team cared for Saidou during his long weeks of recovery, they made sure to take time to play games with him. They encouraged him and prayed for him and, with the help of the ward translators, told him about all the new things he would be able to do when he finally went home.

 

After weeks of physiotherapy, Saidou is now able to move his arms and begin to regain lost movement. He can move his head and neck from side to side. But the most poignant achievement of all was when Saidou began to speak in complete sentences for the first time—ever.

 

His parents were deeply moved to simply hear his voice. Saidou was finally able to express things he had been thinking throughout those long, silent years of his childhood. He had a lot to catch up on. He was so excited to call his mother – 10-hours-travel away – and actually talk to her. His dad was consistently kind and gentle, staying within arm’s reach for the 134 days his son received care from Mercy Ships. He took enormous delight in declaring that his son was now a chatterbox!

 

Deborah was both impressed and challenged by the patients she met on the surgery ship.  ‘My favourite part of this whole experience was the people: I loved the patients, their families, the day crew, and the locals I met!’ she declared ‘Often the patients looked at me with confusion because, being from Nigeria I can understand Yoruba, which some of the people in Benin also speak. It was awesome being able to converse in Yoruba. It really deepened our connection and the level of trust they had in me. Being a nurse of African origins on the ship I found a lot of the patients were drawn to me. In a way I felt like they were proud of me. It was as if some of the parents looked at me thinking if I can do it, so can their child.’

Deb Adesanya’s 20 weeks with Mercy Ships changed her life

 

                                                         Read Deb’s story from Nigeria to New Zealand, to Benin and back again, in the Woman’s Day magazine in stores August 12
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2017 August

What drew Hannah back to volunteer in the Mercy Ship wards for a third time – paying her own way for the privilege? Madagascar and Benin may be exotic sounding holiday locations, but over the past nine months Stanmore Bay nurse Hannah Peters saw a side of everyday life in Africa that most tourists never glimpse.

‘What I loved and valued in the job was being able to be alongside patients from the start of their healing journey to the very end. I could meet them when they were feeling so

Time to develop relationships with the patients was a real highlight

vulnerable, help them along, and observe them growing in strength physically and emotionally. It’s so hard to put into words what it means to see someone find what they had been seeking for so long – healing. It will change how they see themselves and alter their lives forever; it’s a beautiful thing.’

 

Read Hannah’s story in the Rodney Times