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





With thanks:

Filmed and produced by TVNZ SUNDAY, and made with funding from New Zealand on Air

Historic footage of Alya and Dr Neil kindly provided by MEDIA STOCKADE