2019 March

2019 March

British Journal of Surgery (BJS) has published an important medical paper about the work of Mercy Ships. The paper is an evaluation of our implementation of the WHO’s Surgical Safety Checklist in Benin in 2016/17,  co-authored by Mercy Ships expert Dr Michelle White of Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Dr Nina Capo-Chichi, a surgeon in Benin,

The Checklist is a simple tool that has been repeatedly shown to improve surgical outcomes and reduce mortality and morbidity.

‘One of the greatest challenges we face in tackling this problem is how to take proven interventions, and implement them successfully, at scale in low-income settings.’ Dr Michelle White.

In Benin, Mercy Ships volunteer experts visited 36 hospitals and delivered three days of multidisciplinary checklist training at each site, teaching medical staff how to use the Checklist. The aim was to see how great an effect Mercy Ships could have by running intensive courses in Checklist training across a whole country, rather than spending six to 12 months in a single hospital. Would the healthcare providers still be using the Checklist up to four months later?

‘We found that checklist use increased from 31% pre-training to 89% at four months and this was sustained at 86% 12-18 months later. Also after 12-18 months, there was high fidelity use and high penetration shown by an improvement in hospital safety culture.’ Dr Nina Capo-Chichi.

This evaluation, published in the BJS, forms part of the ongoing assessment of Mercy Ships field services in Benin. Assessing our work in this way enables us to improve the delivery of our projects and connect our work to tangible outcomes and impact subsequent field services; offer better healthcare strategy advice to host nations’ governments, and provide information to other non-governmental organisations working in low and middle-income countries.

The paper also stands with a growing body of work led by female medics and jointly with professionals in both Western and Sub-Saharan Africa – a hallmark of the innovative and collaborative approach Mercy Ships is proud to promote.

See a video summary and read the full paper ‘Implementation and evaluation of nationwide scale-up of the Surgical Safety Checklist’

‘Leaving a legacy of lasting change is crucial, so in addition to providing direct medical care on our hospital ship during a ten-month field service, Mercy Ships implements a programme focused on health system-strengthening and quality improvement across the whole country, with the goal of improving the medical care provided for generations to come,’ stated Dr Peter Linz, International Chief Medical Officer at Mercy Ships.

2019 March

Despite the odds of finding Alya five years later in post-Ebola Guinea, his Kiwi surgeon searches for the now 10-year-old. Dr Neil Thomson wants to see the long term impact of his surgery which removed the life-threatening yet benign tumour from the boy’s throat.

Soriba sits on a stool at the end of an empty hospital bed waiting for news of his son Alya, who has been in surgery for nearly three hours to remove a tumour from his small neck.

Across the hallway of the hospital ship, Alya’s Kiwi volunteer surgeon Dr Neil works finishes up the successful surgery. ‘Incredible!’ he declares. Alya’s tumour had grown around the eight-year-old’s windpipe. ‘He was a few months away from suffocating from this.’ In his short life, the tumour on Alya’s neck since birth grew from the size of a twenty cent piece to the size of a potato.

2012/13 images from Media Stockade

But after free surgery onboard the Mercy Ship only a crescent-shaped scar remained where the tumour used be slowly squeezing the breath from the little boy.

Alya’s father’s eyes flutter between the nurse and the translator relaying the message in his language, Susu. ‘Everything went well. He hasn’t woken up yet, but he will soon.’

The relieved father smiles and announces to the ward in Susu, ‘My mind is free, my heart is happy!’

Another patient chimes in from a bed nearby, ‘Let God bring these kinds of people every year in this country!’ ‘Amen!’ declares Soriba.

Hushed mumbles from the other patients and caregivers in the ward quickly turns to a celebration. ‘May God help them to bring healing for other illnesses we have here,’ wishes one woman. Soriba replies, ‘Amen. May there be healing for all!’

Four days later, a squirmy Alya sits on his knees at the end of his hospital bed, pulling on his father’s shirt. Ready to head home to his village, he is no longer the little boy who can’t catch his breath. He is no longer exhausted from his hindered breathing.

‘Without this opportunity, we didn’t have the means for surgery,’ Soriba confesses as he thinks about what the future could have been. Now I am happy!’

In 2018 the Mercy Ship returned to Guinea and Dr Neil Thomson made it a personal mission to search out Alya. When the team found Alya’s village, Dr Neil recognised Alya’s Dad in the crowd immediately. Following him home Dr Neil was reintroduced to the now 12-year-old, who had grown into a strong and healthy boy. ‘He’s completely restored,’ declared Dr Neil. ‘You can’t even see the incision line from his operation! He is an intelligent and sensitive boy who had looked death in the face. ’

Thanks to our sponsors and volunteers,  the free operation Alya received changed and transformed his life. Alya now has a future.

Read more about Dr Neil

2019 March

Like boys the world over, Sema is fascinated by planes. As they flew over his home in Conakry, Guinea he would track their course – dreaming about working on one someday. But Sema couldn’t attend school because of his severely bowed legs, and his family couldn’t afford the expensive, limited specialist care in the city. As the eight-year-old stood his straightest, his knees remained 16cm apart.
Hope for the future spluttered to life when Sema’s family heard a Mercy Ship was coming to Guinea offering free surgery that could correct conditions just like his. It seems too good to be true, but finally Sema had hope that things could change for him; hope that he would no longer be rejected by other children because of his deformity.

Sema receive complex orthopaedic surgeries on both his legs, provided by the team of volunteer specialists onboard the Mercy Ship from New Zealand and around the wold. The road to recovery was a long one, but when his legs casts were finally removed, Sema could hardly believe his eyes – his legs were healed!
But now he had to relearn to walk.

Each day Sema heroically pushed through his physiotherapy tasks, cheered on by his nurse Robyn from Wellington, Emma from Hawkes Bay and the other Mercy Ships physios developed a rehabilitation plan for Sema to regain his balance and strength. His confidence grew each day as his steps became surer until he could walk and balance on his own.

At last Sema was ready for discharge – standing on his ‘new’ legs and 8 cm taller than when he first arrived on board! Now that’s something worth grinning about!

Please consider making a gift now to help us change the future for kids like Sema

2019 March

Nabinti’s husband had died 10 years ago, and she was now the sole bread winner for her family. She would buy a large sack of rice, and then divide it into small packets to sell to her neighbours for a meal at a time. But as the 35 year-old ‘s tumour grew, sales dropped off. Nabinti eventually lost her entire livelihood because people became afraid of her. They were terrified that her tumour was contagious and they too would become affected if they bought her rice.
Her family was living on the bread-line; there seemed to be no hope for Nabinti to receive the medical help she needed in Guinea, West Africa. The required surgery was not only well beyond her financial reach, there was simply no one around who could perform the specialised and risky procedure.
The removal of Nabinti’s tumour by volunteer Kiwi surgeon Dr Neil Thomson saved her life. ‘She had a carotid tumour – it developed on the side of her neck, where the carotid artery branches into smaller blood vessels to carry blood to the brain. It growing through the nerves in Nabinti’s face,’ Dr Neil explains.

Dr Neil and the surgical team painstakingly removed the mass as well as the multitude of fingers reaching through her nerves. ‘It was complex and invasive,’ summarises Dr Neil.
The tumour’s disappearance from her face restored the confidence of Nabinti’s community. She could return to selling rice and could once again provide for her family. She was no longer shunned and ashamed. When her tumour was removed free of charge on the Mercy Ship, everything changed for Nabinti!

Read more about Dr Neil

 

2019 March

Surgeon from Nelson.

Photo credit: Media Stockade

Surfer, botanist, ENT surgeon. After volunteering four times with Mercy Ships in West Africa, Dr Neil Thomson says, ‘You can never be the same after serving onboard. Every time it has a different flavour.’

He is known as ‘Dr Neil’ onboard the hospital ship. The title, a unique mix of friendly and professional, perfectly reflects the Mercy Ships community where the like-minded 450-strong volunteer crew lives, works and socialises together during each 10-month field assignment in West Africa.

This is tour-of-duty is a stand-out one for Dr Neil. He is once again presented with cases that stretch him to the limit professionally – for many cases the removal of huge, complex, benign yet life-threatening tumours from the face and neck. His patients had no hope of accessing life-saving surgery until Mercy Ships came to town offering free care. But this time Dr Neil hopes for the opportunity to visit one of his former surgical patients, a young boy named Alya. Can they find him five years later in post-Ebola Guinea? Did the free surgery on the Mercy Ship save and transform the eight-year-old’s life? Dr Neil has many questions as he and Janine Boyes, the ship’s Purser from Matamata, travel to the village where they heard Alya is now living with his family.

The father of a son himself, Dr Neil is hugely impacted by meeting Alya again. ‘He engaged my eyes and didn’t let go! That’s a powerful thing for a 12-year-old boy,’ he reflected. ‘Alya is an intelligent and sensitive boy who had looked death right in the face.’

Read Alya’s story