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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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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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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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LISTEN ONLINE to RNZ’s Nine to Noon interviews nurse Deb Adesanya about the special bond speaking the local dialect gave when interfacing with her patients, and other remarkable aspects of her five-month voluntary service on the Mercy Ship.

Listen online 

 

 

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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
Click here to help make a difference today

 

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These are the stories of a few of the 35 Kiwis who served on board in Benin, some volunteering for a second, third or even a fifth tour-of-duty

Tony Diprose, Anaesthetist

 

The Hastings anaesthetist tells The Herald what struck him on board the Mercy Ship was the wide range of people vital to providing life-transforming surgery for Africa’s poor. ‘I’d never have thought to say to a plumber, ‘Mate, you could make a real difference in healthcare in West Africa!’ Some of the crew will never set foot in an operating theatre, but there’s a real need on the ship currently for a mechanic, plumbers, maritime crew; they need a carpenter. These people are as much part of our patients’ treatment as any of the theatre staff.’ Read more

 

 

 

 

Steph & Jonny Clark
Ward Nurse, IT Specialist

 

 

Watch The Herald interview with this young couple who used their skill mix to pay it forward, serving Benin’s poor for three months, or read the IT Brief story about what the world of a geek is like on board the world’s largest civilian hospital ship

 

 

 

 

 

Deb Adesanya, Nurse

 

 

Her intended five-week volunteer tour-of-duty on board the Mercy Ship soon was extended to 20 weeks, and her heart was forever changed by the individuals she met. Deb explains, ‘My favourite part of this whole experience was the people; I loved the patients, their families, the day crew, and the locals I met!’ Read her story this month in Womans’ Day magazine, on shelves August 13, 2017! 

 

 

 

 

Nathan Collis. Electrician

 

Nathan Collis, ElectricianCollis was deeply impacted on a very personal level by the larger work of Mercy Ships in their mission to provide essential surgical services to Africa’s poorest people. ‘Getting to watch a cleft lip operation take place was definitely one of the most impacting moments for me. I was born with a cleft lip. Because I was fortunate enough to be born in New Zealand I don’t really have any memory of this, as it was fixed as soon as possible. This teenager had not been given that opportunity. He had gone through his life up being made fun of, and struggling to eat. An operation which takes a little over an hour changes someone’s life so radically.’ Read his story in August’s Electrolink magazine 

 

 

 

Larry Robbins, Deck Officer

 

 

The retired Navy Commander explains to North and South Magazine why he volunteers regularly on board the Mercy Ship. Larry describes his duties that are essential to the function of the hospital ship, and how much he loves the comradery on board. “I have enjoyed my time in this 400-strong community from 34 different nations, and found it most satisfying both for the work and the sense of purpose.”

 

 

 

 

Ellen Parker, Paediatric Nurse

 

 

Ellen Parker shares, ‘My imagination was captured by the idea of volunteering on a hospital ship when I heard about the first Mercy Ship in 1983.The challenge to use my training to help people in poverty simply stuck in my mind, and just never went away. Half a lifetime later, at the age of 66, my dreams became reality as I stepped onto the deck of another Mercy Ship a hemisphere away.’ Read more at OverSixty.com

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Just hours before his farewell speech from Parliament, former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key took the time to share what he thinks about Mercy Ships. “For almost 40 years volunteers have been helping the poorest people …”

John Key endorses Mercy Ships

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Interview by The Herald.

 

Steph and Jonathan hanging out with a tiny patient
Steph and Jonathan hanging out on the hospital ship deck with a tiny patient

 

Using their skills for good, IT specialist Jonathan and his wife, nurse Stephanie Clark embark on a journey to make a difference.Watch The Herald interview here

 

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Jess Doney encountered more than she bargained forAfter five years as an intensive care nurse at Christchurch Hospital, Jess Doney is used to dealing with crises. Her acquired skills have been put to the test when she recently stepped into a new and extraordinary surgical environment.

The 26-year-old signed on articles for a two-month tour-our-duty in Benin, West Africa, providing care for patients who receive free essential surgery that is inaccessible in their own nation. Jess worked primarily in the ship’s ICU, and one of the five wards where she cared for patients of all ages recovering after the removal of huge, benign yet life-threatening, tumours.

But what Jess says she didn’t expect during her volunteer service was a shift in her own perspective, “Mainly in being thankful for the ‘little things’.

“I visited at the boys’ orphanage here in Cotonou regularly. One week the boys were asked what they were thankful for. Their responses were along the lines of,  ‘ I am thankful because I am alive’, and ‘Because I woke up today – lots of people didn’t!’” These comments from little boys have made her think differently about just being grateful for life, and the simple joys that each day brings.”

“Mercy Ships is unique in their work ethic, their willingness to help and serve the people of Benin,” Jess comments in reflection. “I would definitely volunteer again.”

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Crowds wait for the chance for free surgery
Crowds wait for the chance for free surgery

Lack of access to safe surgery results in more deaths worldwide every year than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

There is growing international acknowledgement of what theatre staffs have long known and advised: accidental trauma, birth complications and the lack of surgical intervention for amenable disease conditions causes millions of people annually life-long disability or death.

Empowered by the rising profile given to the accessibility of surgery in developing nations by the findings of The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery a movement has begun; a new determination to make access to safe and affordable surgery for the poor a reality.

For nearly 40 years Mercy Ships, the hospital-ship charity, has quietly made it a priority to provide safe surgery for people who otherwise would have no options. Mercy Ships joined the newly formed Global Alliance for Surgical, Obstetric, Trauma and Care (G4 Alliance) in 2015. The Lancet Commission’s report was published later that year with a vision to ‘embed surgery within the global health agenda, catalysing political change, and defining scalable solutions for provision of quality surgical and anaesthesia care for all.’ Together these bodies are stimulating a growing recognition that safe surgery must be an integral part of the global health agenda.

Esther Meyer enjoying down time on deck with some of her patients
Esther Meyer enjoying down time on deck with some of her patients

During 2014–2016 the Mercy Ship Africa Mercy completed two ten-month tours of duty in the island of Madagascar, off Africa’s eastern coast where 95% of Madagascar’s 23 million people live on less than $1.25 per day to cover all their needs: food, shelter, clothing, education and healthcare. Since much of the population lives in remote villages, it was common for patients on the hospital ship to explain how they had walked for days – sometimes carrying a child – to reach any public transport. From this point, basic healthcare may be accessible, but at a crippling cost. Before any treatment is undertaken, the patient must pay for – and sometimes even source – sutures, IV bags and fluid, dressings, bandages and pharmaceuticals, everything that is needed for treatment. So when free reconstructive or life-saving surgery was offered by Mercy Ships, patients and their families often broke down with tears of relief. Few had any other options, or even hope, for healing.

While in Madagascar, Mercy Ships launched a mobile education team. The ‘Checklist’ team of three to five doctors and nurses travelled a gruelling 16,829 kilometres to every regional hospital, even in the most inaccessible areas. They coached local healthcare professionals in the understanding and use of the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist. This simple tool helps any surgical team to improve safety in surgery. It has been proven that using the checklist has decreased operating room mortality by nearly 50% and significantly decreases surgical complications and infections.

In New Zealand and many parts of the world, this checklist is now mandatory. In Madagascar it was not utilised effectively. Mercy Ships came alongside every region in the country and assisted them in creating their personalised checklist and provided the participating hospitals with pulse oximeters.
Safer surgery is being performed throughout Madagascar as indicated by a follow-up visit after three months which showed a Checklist usage rate of 80%. Further assessment will take place in 2017. The Checklist team collected national healthcare data never previously compiled, and worked with other organisations to support the government in developing a national surgical plan.

In August the Mercy Ship sailed to Cotonou, Benin where the crew have 10 months to engage in medical capacity-building and provide healthcare for thousands more Africans in desperate need of both hope and healing.

Esther Meyer
Each year dozens of New Zealanders – including theatre nurses, anaesthesia staff, surgeons and other healthcare professionals – volunteer with Mercy Ships. The not-for-profit is Africa-focused, with a mission to provide free surgery for those in greatest need, and to train medical professionals to continue their work long after the ship departs.

Esther Meyer, theatre nurse from Drury volunteered for five months in the on board theatres during 2014, in the Republic of Congo. She found it to be impacting both on a professional and a personal level. Esther explains, “As the Mercy Ship is a floating hospital it is able to move to different locations, while still providing an excellent standard of care. It provides a place where local health professionals can come on board to learn valuable skills, without having to leave their own country.

“The camaraderie between the volunteers is unique. No one gets paid and there is no hierarchy in the operating room. We worked hard as a team with all the same goal in mind. The operating room is a fast paced and fast turnaround of staff. In New Zealand we have a wide range of ethnicities, so it wasn’t hard to feel at home. There is a mixture of British and American terminology inside the operating room, but plenty of understanding and patience. Laughter helps to break down barriers, and friends are made quickly. To be able to serve alongside such knowledgeable people, and to have the opportunity to learn from them, was very exciting.

Posted with permission by The Dissector December 2017

Video link : The Mercy Ships response to Global Surgical Need (3 min)

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