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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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New Plymouth-born pharmacist Gray Barnett has gone to sea… His role comprises a mix of community and hospital pharmacist.

Pharmacy Today magazine – February 2018 
by Nerine Zoio

Barnett experiences special moments with patients despite not speaking their language

New Plymouth-born pharmacist Gray Barnett has gone to sea.

For 10 weeks during December 2017 and January, he volunteered with Mercy Ships New Zealand, providing medical and surgical care to people in desperate circumstances on Africa’s west coast.

The Christian-oriented Mercy Ships are essentially floating hospitals operating all over the waterways and coastlines of developing nations.

Mr Barnett’s ship, the Africa Mercy, docked in August, in Cameroon, where it is spending eight months treating patients from all over the country.

On board, his role comprises a mix of community pharmacist and hospital pharmacist.

“I guess what personally motivates me to volunteer is to give freely of my expertise as a pharmacist, and to provide a level of care to patients that could be expected in New Zealand or Canada,” he says.

“I think that’s important, and it’s very satisfying to help in this way.”

The ship screens patients to determine whether surgery and a successful outcome are feasible before taking them on.

Unlike a standard hospital, on Mercy ships specialist surgeons from all over the world volunteer to undertake a limited scope of surgeries.

The ship’s 80 beds are often filled by patients for much longer than the night or two expected in a New Zealand hospital, due to lack of medical infrastructure to manage complications once off the ship.

Meanwhile, a “hope centre”, akin to a Ronald McDonald House, provides an area for patients and their families as further recovery takes place.

Most patients seen on board are medically stable, but still require wound care, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

More than 85,000 free surgeries have been provided in 40 years.

Not speaking French does not hinder Mr Barnett from building relationships with patients.

“I experience many special moments, like when I receive a gentle smile or shake hands with a patient, which means a lot both to patient and practitioner,” he says.

His typical day consists of attending to ward rounds, monitoring medicine quality, ensuring optimal medication usage outcomes, and acting as a community pharmacist for the crew.

Pharmacists on the ship act as “safety nets” because the senior doctors lack their teams of younger registrars and house officers back home.

“Pharmacists have a bit of a role to play, catching a few more issues normally managed by junior doctors,” Mr Barnett says.

Along with three other pharmacists, he often finds himself compounding creams, ointments and suspensions, although this is made difficult by the lack of a sterile unit.

Challenges include the small size of the pharmacy, the limited formulary and supplying the ward’s medicine cabinet, including fluid supply.

‘What personally motivates me to volunteer is to give freely of my expertise as a pharmacist and t provide a level of care to patients that could be expected in New Zealand or Canada. I think that’s important, and it’s very satisfying to help in this way.’

“Half of the pharmacy, which is on the same level as the hospital, is run out of a container, with stores being held at another part of the ship,” Mr Barnett says.

“This means we’re constantly tripping over ourselves to run a pharmacy out of a very small dispensary and container, as well as the challenge of needing to leave the hospital area to get to the supply area to get medication.”

The team’s senior pharmacist manages logistics. It can take up to three months for a medication order to come through from the US, the Netherlands, or the UK.

“The ship can buy medicine locally, but that constitutes a challenge as it is next to Nigeria, the counterfeit capital of the world,” Mr Barnett says.

“Recently, we ran out of intravenous fluids, which now requires us to source from a local manufacturer.”

The surgeons on the ship provide a wide range of general surgeries, including dental, eye, maxillofacial, plastic reconstructive, orthopaedic, and women’s health.

Many of these surgeries treat conditions not normally seen in New Zealand, such as elephantiasis caused by a parasitic worm, or severe clubfoot.

The obstetrics surgery mainly concerns fistula correction after childbirth. This occurs when an infant becomes stuck, placing pressure on the tissue around the uterus, anus and bladder. This results in necrosis of the tissue, loss of the child and inability to carry children until the condition is treated.

“It’s also associated with social stigma and social isolation, as the ability to bear children is culturally important in West Africa, and because of involuntary bowel movements or urinary incontinence,” Mr Barnett says.

There are many accidents around open flames in Cameroon and other West African countries and, because some of the injured don’t get high-quality care, burn contractures occur, he says. Often people are disfigured and lose range of movement in their limbs.

Barnett dispenses a patient’s prescription to NZ nurse Ellen Parker

The Mercy Ships plastic surgery team does its best to correct the contractures, to restore functionality and for cosmetic purposes.

“Because some of the burns are so severe, it’s often hard to get the perfect cosmetic look. But at least more dignity is brought back into patients’ lives, and function is brought back to their extremities.”

Paediatric neurosurgery is especially conducted on patients with hydrocephalus to enable cerebrospinal fluid to drain out of the brain, rather than accumulate.

“Hydrocephalus causes certain parts of infants’ faces to bulge because the skull hasn’t fused, pushing the brain out. Many other things can go wrong, such as delayed cognitive development, sensory issues, epilepsy and, if severe enough, death can occur,” says Mr Barnett.

“The fortunate thing is that, if we can catch it in time, it won’t have an impact on their survivability going forward in life.”

Goitre is another common ailment. “We see goitre that is so severe that it can end up killing the patient by collapsing their airway.”

Whatever the condition, the ship’s interventions bring immediate help, Mr Barnett says.

“I reflect on what a difference we’re making; that patients can leave our ship and go on with their lives with more function and dignity.”

Mr Barnett grew up in New Plymouth and studied at the University of Otago.

Recently, he moved to Canada, where he is in the process of becoming licensed as a pharmacist.

 

SHIPS OF HOPE:  In the past 40 years, Mercy Ships New Zealand has conducted 85,000 free surgeries and trained 40,000 healthcare professionals.

In the past year, it has performed about 3000 cataract surgeries.

In addition to surgery, Mercy Ships is focused on building health expertise,infrastructure and sanitation within a country.

“Teaching the local doctors and nurses to provide care and building healthcare capacity in the local community are focal areas, so that when the ships disembark, services can still be provided,” New Zealand pharmacist and Mercy Ships volunteer Gray Barnett says.

“This involves the donation of equipment, and connecting hospitals with other organisations that can donate equipment to conduct surgeries.”

Mr Barnett says pharmacy technicians are required, and any volunteers would be welcomed.

 

© The Health Media Ltd

 

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Ship’s purser Janine Boyes is from Matamata

What does a Purser do? Meet Matamata’s Janine Boyes who has served onboard for eight years, and has some remarkable stories to tell about life onboard a Mercy Ship!

Read Janie’s story here

Thanks to the Matamata Chronicle

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Kat Sotolongo’s image of Dr Agebessi was awarded by The Lancet medical journal

Photographs allow powerful stories to unfold through brief moments captured on camera. One photograph taken by Mercy Ships videographer, Kat Sotolongo, illustrated the incredible impact Mercy Ships is having in the world.

The photograph was one of 10 photographs selected as a winner in the Lancet’s annual photography competition. It was published by the Lancet, where Mercy Ships was recognized for its efforts to serve and empower the people of West Africa. The photograph depicts Odry Agbessi, the first female plastic reconstructive surgeon in Benin.

Dr Agbessi’s accomplishment and her drive to succeed amidst difficult circumstances is captured by Sotolongo in the photograph, which represents why Mercy Ships exists.

“Mercy Ships provided training so (Dr Agbessi) could develop her skills. Through our medical capacity building efforts, we help the nations we serve by providing knowledge, tools and resources to deliver healthcare,” Sotolongo said.

As Mercy Ships continues to work in West Africa through surgical training, mentoring and infrastructure improvements, people like Dr Agbessi shine with the potential to make a difference in their world.

Thanks to Sotolongo’s award-winning photograph of Dr Agbessi, a story of courage and strength has unfolded, and people around the world can see the lasting impact Mercy Ships has, long after it departs.

Congratulations Kat!

Watch Dr Agrebessi’s courageous story here

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NZ Woman’s Weekly story of  Auckland nurse Steph Clark’s volunteer work on the hospital ship Africa Mercy, providing free hospital care to developing countries. She and her husband Jonathan will return to serve with Mercy Ships later this year in Guinea, West Africa.  Read the article here

      

Steph specialises in the care of children

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Information and technology expert from Half Moon Bay, Auckland uses her power for good in Cameroon, West Africa. Yida Zou volunteered for 3 months as an AV technician. Read about Yida Zou’s experiences in the ship’s IT team here

 

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