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High up Mount Manengouba in Cameroon, through rocky terrain and lush foliage, lies the beautiful village of Bororos. The journey to Bororos consists of a steep, uphill horse ride surrounded by craggy rocks with only wildlife for company. But two little girls, sisters Salamatou and Mariama, had never left their village high in the hills of Cameroon because of their twisted legs.

The six- and eight-year-old sisters didn’t get the important nutrients they needed during crucial years of bone development. Without strong bones, the pressure of walking caused their legs to grow incorrectly, resulting in a condition called Valgus. Because of their malformed legs, they both found it difficult to walk to school, and only sometimes managed to attend. Their malnutrition, combined with an inability to access surgery, meant Salamatou and Mariama had to learn to cope with their twisted legs.

Their parents felt guilty when they first knew something was not right. “I felt bad that we did not have any money to take them to the hospital,” recalled their mother, Mymoona. “I was worried about them and their future. If I didn’t do anything, I knew they would have a hard time in life.”

Mymoona was so worried about her daughters that it began to take a toll on her health. So when her husband, Debo, heard about Mercy Ships, he led all three of his girls down the mountain on horseback, making the brave journey to the coast. They were grateful to have each other as they arrived at a ship they had only heard stories about.

Salamatou and Mariama, sisters, walking with their family near their village.

“We didn’t know the hospital was actually in the ship. We’ve never been to a ship before,” said Debo. “When I first came I was afraid for my girls, but then I saw many children like them and the fear went away.”

The sisters’ almost identical conditions enabled the whole family to stay together after they were approved for surgery. With their family by their side, Salamatou and Mariama began to soak in their new surroundings and prepare for the operations that would change the course of their lives.

The first day after their surgeries, Salamatou was up and walking around, challenging her sister, who was convinced the straightened casts didn’t contain her own legs. Clutching at the familiarity of her toes, Mariama watched her older sister stand tall. Soon, their strong personalities were evident as they each watched competitively to see what the other was achieving.

Their sibling rivalry throughout recovery encouraged growth as they competed with one another to reach each healing milestone. Who would stand up first? Who could walk the furthest? “They were encouraging each other during their time on the ship,” recalls Debo. “One day, Salamatou said to her younger sister, ‘Because you never smile, I will walk before you…’ And she did! This motivated Mariama in her healing.”

During their rehabilitation exercises, their parents learned about the importance of nutrition. The ship’s dietician gave them valuable information about crucial nutrients, like calcium, before sending the family on their way with plenty of vitamins to aid the girls’ healing.

“They told us about the importance of eggs, fish, and vegetables,” said Mymoona. “We will be sure to tell the other families in the village so it can help us all.”

Volunteer Physiotherapist Meg Crameri worked with the girls during their rehab sessions. She hopes this nutritional advice will be shared to help other families whose children might otherwise end up suffering with similar conditions.

Salamatou and Mariama’s family in their village.

“If you are from a poorer area where nutrition isn’t a top priority, then it’s not surprising that this occurs,” said Crameri. “One of the big ways we can change that is by making sure they do it right when they go back home.”

Salamatou and Mariama returned to Bororos with newly straightened legs! And Debo and Mymoona returned ready to share what they had learned about nutrition during their time on the Africa Mercy.

“The route down the mountain was too much for the girls before, and I thought they would never go down. Their lives are far better now, far improved,” said Debo. “Now, they will be able to commit to school and use their education. Before, my heart was anxious for my family, but now I am content.”

Written by: Georgia Ainsworth

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It all started with a toothache when Salematu was 24. As a first-year nursing student, she knew she should go to the dentist, but she was struggling. She had just lost her husband unexpectedly, leaving her with two young daughters. Money was low, and medical costs were high.

But the pain in her mouth grew worse. Eventually, waiting was no longer an option. After examination, the doctor’s news was not good — she was told it was a tumour that was growing slowly but steadily.

Over the next two years, she watched helplessly as it took over her face, pressing into her mouth and making it more difficult to speak or swallow. It twisted her nose. It began to creep closer to her left eye, threatening her vision.

All the while, Salematu was told the same thing by doctors: there was nothing they could do. They did not have the medical capacity to help her. Over time, she was forced to abandon her dream of finishing nursing school. What use was it to continue studying if her tumour kept her from working?

Tired of the looks and comments from strangers in the street, she stopped going out. She became relegated to her home, spending most of her time with her two young daughters. She was ashamed to be seen, embarrassed to let even her daughters witness her changing face.

Kiwi nurse Shali Clemant helps care for Salematu post surgery

“I felt helpless. I shouldn’t look like this,” she said.

The first glimmer of hope came the day her uncle called her with news from the port city of Conakry — a hospital ship was arriving to perform free surgeries! Her heart was filled with happiness at the hope of release from the tumour. Salematu got on a bus and made the journey to the capital city alone, leaving her daughters behind with their grandmother.

It was hard to say goodbye not knowing how long it might be until she saw them again, especially without a way to keep in contact. But she knew that this surgery would not only save her life — it would save her daughters from growing up as orphans.

The day she walked up the gangway to receive her operation, Salematu said she felt joy down to her bones.

The next two weeks in the hospital were a blur. After her successful surgery, she bonded with the nurses who gave her around-the-clock care. “The nurses are my favourite,” Salematu said. “They are so kind to me. They have all become my friends.”

After a few days, she was able to look into the mirror and see her new face for the first time after surgery.

“I feel beautiful. I feel good. I feel hopeful,” she marvelled.

During her stay on the Africa Mercy, Salematu couldn’t stop thinking about the moment she would be reunited with her daughters, when they would finally see her without the tumour that had hindered her smile for two long years. Without a way to send them photos, she knew the transformation would be overwhelming.

“They will see me soon, and they will not believe it,” Salematu smiled. “They will be so happy!”

Friendly nurses kept monitoring her progress. She was moving closer to the finish line — the countdown had begun.

The day she was told she could return home, Salematu said she felt like dancing! She was so excited to finally hold her daughters close, and to return to pursuing her dreams of finishing nursing school, with the hope of one-day pouring love and care into others.

These plans for a life that once felt powerless now felt full of limitless possibility. Salematu’s miracle changed her life, and she couldn’t wait to share her joy with the world.

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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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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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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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