39. Camacho, Mexico 1987


The elderly woman struggled to see as she slowly made her way up the Anastasis gangway. The ship’s crew were full of anticipation, hoping to catch a glimpse of the FIRST PATIENT to have surgery on a Mercy Ship’

40 STORIES OF HEALING: Day 39
‘Señora Refugio Camacho shuffled up the gangway, her daughter hovering by her side, the rolling and rocking of the ship feeling, no doubt, like the recent earthquake. The ship’s crew gathered near the gangway, wanting to catch a glimpse of their first surgery patient.

She was 68 years old, face lined, grey wisps of hair escaping from her bun, hands calloused and arthritic, eyes dull with fading years and cloudy with cataracts. And she was stepping into a strange world, a big hospital ship that had anchored near her home after the Mexico earthquake.

With a red ink thumbprint, she signed the patient consent form, donned a yellow paper gown and surgical cap, and with a final shaky smile at her daughter’s retreating touch, she was led into surgery. An assortment of medical professionals from Mexico and around the world who had arrived after Mercy Ships put out a call for expert help, all crowded into the room for this history in the making as Dr Bob Dyer performed the cataract surgery, assisted by Dr Gary Parker.’

Lydia Smith was one of the nurses. She recalls, ‘I remember the sense of awe and gratitude to God as I stepped away from the operating table allowing the recovery room nurses to take over the care of the our patient – a little Mexican lady having cataract removal under local anaesthetic. We had just completed the first surgery on board the Anastasis . I had been the scrub nurse, handing the eye surgeon and his assistant the sterile instruments and working to reassure and maintain the comfort of the patient.’

The next morning the medical team excitedly gathered around Señora Camacho to watch Dr Dyer carefully remove the eye bandages.

‘As the first eye patch fell away, Señora Camacho looked toward her daughter and gasped, ‘Yo puedo ver! Yo puedo ver!’I can see! I can see! She grabbed Dr Dyer’s hand, ‘Gracias! Gracias!’

The Mercy Ship was now, finally, a hospital ship.’ *

Lydia reflects, ‘We were seeing the promise given to those who had pioneered the ministry fulfilled before our very eyes. Sight was restored to the blind. It was an awesome moment and I feel very honoured to have been on the first surgical team operating on board. This was rewarding and challenging work that fulfilled dreams I had held for many years.’

After five years of volunteer toil converting the former cruise liner into a floating hospital, in Lazaro Cardenus, Mexico on 17 February 1987, Señora Camacho became the first patient to receive what now numbers more than 95,000 free surgeries provided by Mercy Ships for people living in poverty.

*Includes excerpt from ‘Ships of Mercy’ by Founder, Don Stephens

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