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Esther was full of charisma. The bright, bubbly six-year-old saw the joy in every situation. But Esther suffered with a windswept leg caused by rickets—a brittle bone condition that causes leg deformities. When children don’t get the nutrients they need at key stages of their growth, they can develop rickets. When Esther was only 18 months old, her leg was already growing the wrong way.

Her mother, Mabel, was a single parent who tried to find a way to fix her vibrant little girl’s twisted leg. She was told that nothing could be done and that it was too late.

As Esther grew up, she was treated differently due to her windswept leg, and her mother sadly watched as her little girl slowly became more reclusive. Esther’s true personality only emerged at home in the safe presence of those she knew wouldn’t tease her. The rest of her days were spent watching from the sidelines as her confidence faded. After she started school and the teasing increased, her energy and love for life diminished. The Esther that Mabel knew was disappearing before her eyes—scared of the unknown and unable to continue school.

‘She started to become distant and drew back from things that she would normally have jumped at. This made me sad because it’s not a true example of my Esther,’ recalls Mabel. ‘She would sink back into herself and not join in activities… that’s not my girl. My girl is bright, fun, and loving.’


 

Always on the move, uprooting their lives time and again, Mabel searched the country for a solution to her daughter’s condition. After he

aring about Mercy Ships through a friend, they made yet another journey to the port city—but this time it wasn’t a dead end. Esther was accepted for orthopaedic surgery to correct her windswept leg.

Time onboard the Africa Mercy saw Esther’s personality emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon. It didn’t take long for the crew to fall in love with her true personality. She thrived in the comfort of a loving and accepting environment, as evidenced by her endless giggles and smiles.

Esther’s pink cast and brightly coloured hair bands lit up the rehabilitation tent during weekly physical therapy sessions. As her bones grew stronger, so did her confidence, revealing the bold, beautiful daughter Mabel always knew was there.

‘Now, I have high hopes for her,’ said Mabel. ‘She will be able to go back to school to get an education for a bright future!’

Mabel is delighted with her daughter’s physical and emotional transformation. ‘We’ll all be dancing when we get home,’ she said. ‘And now, my Esther will finally be able to join in like she’s always wanted to!’

Story by Georgia Ainsworth

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Ebenezer couldn’t understand the sudden, horrendous pain in his feet that brought him to a halt. The little boy tried to brush away whatever was causing him agony, but the pain quickly spread to his hands. Ebenezer had stumbled into a hidden fire pit. Read Ebenezer’s story here

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As the Africa Mercy was preparing to sail to Guinea in 2014, a horrific epidemic was declared in West Africa. An Ebola outbreak in the region made it impossible for the Mercy Ship to enter.

The ship was diverted to Madagascar for two years. The people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone particularly were in the hearts and prayers of the Mercy Ships crew and staff around the world during this enforced separation, as many years had been spent serving patients in these nations with both the Anastasis and Africa Mercy.

In 21 months the Ebola crisis killed over 2,500 people in Guinea and five times more people across the region than all other known Ebola outbreaks combined. Families were torn apart, schools were closed and the fragile local economies were devastated as life came to a halt in the effort to contain the disease. Guinea was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation in December 2015.

Now Mercy Ships is finally able to return to Guinea as part of our commitment to sustainable healthcare development in the region. During the Africa Mercy’s 10-month stay in the port of Conakry, Republic of Guinea, Mercy Ships plans to provide 2,000 – 2,500 life-changing surgeries onboard, to treat over 8,000 at a land-based dental clinic as well as providing healthcare training to local healthcare professionals through mentoring and courses.

Previous Mercy Ships field services in Guinea took place in 1992 (with previous flagship Anastasis), 1998 (Anastasis) and 2012 (Africa Mercy)

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Mercy Ships recently signed a collaborative agreement with the World Health Organization in the African Region, to improve surgery and anaesthesia services in Africa.

The agreement aims to increase access to surgical care and build capacity of health workers to strengthen surgical care delivery systems.

It was signed in Dakar, Senegal, by WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti and Dr Peter Linz, International Chief Medical Officer of Mercy Ships.

“This agreement epitomises what the Transformation Agenda in the African Region is all about – joining hands with new partners, working together towards improved, equitable access to healthcare services – to transform people’s lives, bringing hope and healing on the African continent,” said Dr Moeti.

“I hope our partnership will do what you [at Mercy Ships] do so well: provide vitally needed services for those who need it desperately, as well as building up capacity in countries.”

No one left behind

During their bilateral discussion, Mercy Ships and WHO highlighted the gaps in safe, affordable and timely access to essential surgical care, and underscored the need to ultimately work to ensure that no one is left behind.

A report published in The Lancet earlier this year found that there is a severe lack of surgical provision in African countries: the number of operations provided annually was 20 times lower than the crucial surgical volume required to meet a country’s essential surgical needs each year. Furthermore, when African surgical patients can get the surgery they need, they are twice as likely to die after their planned surgery than the global average.

In his remarks, Dr Linz said: “The solution to this daunting and complex problem will require hard work and collaboration from all stakeholders. We are hopeful that our formal collaboration with WHO will be one of those pillars in strengthening access to surgical care across Africa.”

The agreement between Mercy Ships and WHO covers a range of activities including strengthening health systems and building the capacity of health workers, providing technical assistance to the integration of surgical, obstetric and anaesthesia services in National Health Sector Strategies and Plans.

It also includes contributing to health infrastructure development and supplies in partner hospitals and clinics aligned with Mercy Ships programmes and in collaboration with country priorities, as well as documenting and disseminating surgical best practices for improving the quality of care.

Dr Linz was accompanied by Mercy Ships Ambassador for Africa – Dr Pierre M’Pele.

Pictured (l-r): Dr M’Pele, Dr Linz and Dr Moeti.

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Motorcycle courier, bookbinder, English as a second language teacher, telephonist, wife and mother – Heather Provan calls herself a ‘Jill of all trades’.  Shipmate is the latest role the ‘70-plus’ year-old with a thirst for adventure has added to her repertoire of experiences.  Not satisfied with anything dull and routine, Mrs Provan’s most recent undertaking sees her volunteering on the crew of the world’s largest civilian hospital ship – the 16,000 tonne Africa Mercy.

This is the second tour-of-duty for Mrs Provan on the Mercy Ship which provides free essential surgery to people in poverty on Africa’s West Coast. She is aboard for three months working in the hospital ship’s laundry. ‘I am a very small cog in a huge organisation, but without the small cogs working efficiently the hospital wouldn’t be possible,’ she explains.

This is the second time Mrs Provan has volunteered on board – last year she served in the dining room team 6 weeks. This year her voluntary work saw her fly into Cameroon, West Africa towards the end of the vessel’s field service.

During that 10 months in Cameroon, the Mercy Ship had provided 2,746 essential surgeries with rehabilitation services, treated more than 10,000 dental patients, and invested in the local health care structure with 1,475 local people attending Medical Capacity Building courses participants.

‘The ship is completely run on donations and by volunteer workers,’ she describes. ‘I work with people from many nations, different cultures and languages – all working in harmony,’

As the Mercy Ship was due to enter a maintenance period in the Canary Islands during her service period Mrs Provan was also able to enjoy time at sea. She had the unusual nautical experience of sailing through the Prime Meridian, crossing the Equator at 0,0. ‘Not just any old bit of the Equator,’ she states, now able to claim the title of Royal Diamond Shellback for the rare feat, with a certificate to prove it.

With support from Mahurangi Presbyterian Church, Mrs Provan will continue her volunteer work through the maintenance period in The Canary Islands, the return sea voyage to Africa, and conclude after the vessel has arrived in the new field service location of Guinea.

‘This experience satisfies my desire to help others and has given me amazing experiences and adventures,’ she reflects. ‘I feel each day is a gift from God and I must make the most of it. God is still teaching me. He has given me such blessings during my lifetime; I want to be a blessing to others who are less fortunate.’

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Marthe takes a bow for the nurses after recovering from her life-transforming surgery

 

Hannah Peters’ huge heart took her to Benin, Madagascar and Cameroon caring for people with devastating conditions. She shares the remarkable transformation that occurs on the inside and outside of her patients, and Marthe in particular. Read Hannah’s story in That’s Life magazine here

 

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Victoria was on her own in the world

Victoria never lost hope. Not after her parents died when she was a girl, not after she was forced to start begging in the streets, and not even when she began developing a massive facial tumour when she was only 18 years old.

Now, the resilient 23-year-old sat on the deck of the Africa Mercy, one hand holding a blue cloth to her bandaged face. Above the white bandages, her eyes sparkled when they caught the sunlight. It was difficult for her to speak after her tumour removal surgery, but warmth radiated from her smile. Her story was begging to spill out.

Her journey, like that of many of the patients who come to the ship, was marked by courage. It was not a short one … nor was it easy. Her travels took her from the far north, beyond Cameroon’s borders, on an arduous three-day journey to the port city where the Africa Mercy is docked.

Orphaned from an early age, the brave young woman made the trip alone. She was accustomed to facing obstacles. She had spent her adolescence fending for herself – living on the streets and sometimes forced to beg for money. Then the tumour appeared, slowly expanding over her face, affecting her in ways that stretched beyond the physical. It was difficult to eat or speak clearly. People avoided looking at her, and it became more challenging to find work to earn a living.

Victoria could have easily given in to the bitterness of a hardened heart. But, even in these difficult circumstances, her love for Jesus remained. It shone brilliantly in her eyes and was evident in her gentle spirit.

After hearing about Mercy Ships, Victoria bravely left the familiar behind for a chance at a brighter future — one without the weight of the tumour that had burdened her for five years.

“Victoria was all joy the night she came to the ship. The surgery took some of her energy and spark. Yet, through moments on the ward and dances down the hall, Victoria recovered

Victoria’s eyes tell the story of her healing

well both in heart and health,” said Kayla Bissonette, a volunteer ward nurse. “What was once work and exercises changed to laughs and friendships during her stay … the smile that reaches her eyes is how I’ll remember her!”

Victoria’s time on the ship gave her plenty of opportunities to exercise her engaging smile. While recovering from surgery, she celebrated her 24th birthday on the Africa Mercy, surrounded by fellow patients and caring crew members.

Before long, Victoria’s bandages were removed, and she saw herself tumour-free for the first time in years! “Thank you for making me beautiful,” she said to a nurse.

“You’ve always been beautiful,” the nurse replied.

Victoria’s first surgery left her free to eat, speak, and move with much more ease than before, but her journey to a full recovery was not yet complete. A routine second surgery awaited her to tighten the stretched skin on her chin.

But as she sat on the deck in the warm sunshine, Victoria’s journey to healing had already begun. By bravely telling her story, Victoria shared the hope she received, and her powerful transformation is evident in her beautiful smile and sparkling eyes.

‘Thanks for making me beautiful,’ Victoria told a nurse after the surgery to remove her tumour. ‘You’ve always been beautiful,’ the nurse replied.

Story by Rose Talbot

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Helen volunteer as an anaesthetic assistant on board the Mercy Ship

A hospital ship in West Africa is a world away from the family farm at Rua Roa under the Ruahine Rangers. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, taking Helen Trainor on the journey of a lifetime – eventually to volunteer her surgical skills aboard the Mercy Ship in Cameroon

Ms Trainor developed a deep love for animals as she grew up on the farm, and after high school, she trained as a veterinary nurse and developed a keen interest in anaesthesia while working in animal surgery. This, in turn, inspired her to retrain as an anaesthesia technician. ‘I moved from veterinary nursing to anaesthetising people because it was always such a fascinatingly part of the vet nursing job, but anaesthetics is quite limited with animals. So I moved to humans!’ Helen worked in the cardiothoracic and ear, nose and throat specialities in Auckland before heading to the U.K. to work in a large London hospital where she heard about the world’s largest civilian hospital ship operation, by the not-for-profit Mercy Ships, providing essential surgery for some of Africa’s poorest people.

Read Helen’s story in The Manuwatu Standard here

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Melanie tends to 4-year-old Mediatrice

These days, Pirongia-born nurse Melanie Allen begins each shift with a two-minute walk to work – down several flights of stairs and into the hospital deck of the world’s largest civilian hospital ship, Africa Mercy. In February Melanie joined the volunteer crew of the 16,000 tonne Mercy Ships vessel in Cameroon, West Africa. Her two-month tour-of-duty has already been both eye-opening and professionally challenging.

The 24-year-old is assigned to the ‘plastics’ ward caring, for both child and adult patients after they have received free reconstructive surgery for disabling burns.

‘The most common surgery I have seen so far among my paediatric patients is the release of burn contractures using skin grafts,’ explains Melanie. ‘These burns are often caused by spilling or falling into hot water or oil. The scar tissue that forms becomes tight and shortens, causing the limb to be stuck in a bent position, limiting their mobility and functionality. Other common problems I have seen so far are keloid scars where a prominent scar forms after injury from excessive tissue growth and lipomas which are benign tumours made up of fatty tissue.’

‘In general, the problems patients coming to Mercy Ships may face due to these conditions include a limited ability to work, or get an education, and some may even be ostracized from their communities.’

Armstrong had a large keloid tumour removed from his chin. Melanie is checking his pain level after surgery.

Cameroon can boast only 77 physicians for every million people, so even if patients could scrape together enough money to pay for treatment, timely care is simply not accessible. Similar statistics are echoed all over West Africa, which is why the not-for-profit has been operating hospital ships in the regions for decades.

‘For some people here, the Mercy Ship is their only hope for surgery,’ observes Melanie. ‘They to want regain their dignity, be acceptance back into community life and to have the ability to do things others take for granted.’

‘The Africa Mercy is unique because each year it sails to countries that most need help. It is like a little city with all sorts of people with various roles on board. People from all over the world come to volunteer their time and expertise. It is so well organised and I feel very supported.

‘Each morning the chaplaincy team come into the wards, and there is singing and dancing with African drums. During the evening patients pour out into the hallways where there is singing and dancing African-style. It can be very loud! It is an environment full of joy, love and thankfulness. Prayer is integrated into patient care. At the start of each shift we gather together and our team leader prays.

Serving with Mercy Ships has taken me back to the heart of nursing. There is less paperwork and more quality patient time. It has also challenged me to be more creative with the way I communicate with my patients across culture and language barriers. French is the main language spoken here in Cameroon but there are many other languages also. I try to learn key phrases that I can use, frequently use interpreters (our lovely local day crew), picture pain scales etc. I have also experienced how a smile or warm gesture can go a long way.

The Mercy Ship and her crew feature in the eight-part National Geographic series The Surgery Ship, on SKY Channel 072 beginning Saturday 7 April, at 6.30pm. For more information and behind the scenes stories, return to the homepage.

Around 40 New Zealanders volunteer with Mercy Ships every year for weeks, months and even years at a time working in medical, maritime and operational capacities.  To see the incredible results of the work of these hidden Kiwis heroes, watch The Surgery Ship.

Thanks to the Te Awamutu Courier for publishing Melanie’s story

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We usually understand a ship to be a means of transporting people or cargo, a luxury cruise liner or a military vessel. Rarely do we associate a ship with a hospital. In this article, the authors explore the creation and operation of a unique ship, the Africa mercy (formerly a Danish ferry), which operates as a floating hospital providing healthcare to developing African nations.

Read the recent article in FTD Supply Chain Management magazine here FTD_febmar18

 

 

 

 

 

 

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