2019 July

HIS CLEFT PALATE WAS CAUSING THE BABY BOY TO SLOWLY STARVE

 

Paul Pascal arrived as a feather-light bundle cradled in his desperate mother’s arms. His skin was paper-thin, his body tiny. At three months he weighed two kilos – less than a newborn

ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND THANK YOU’s
to God for the restored lives and new future for Paul Pascal and the multiplied thousands who have passed through the hearts and care of the crew on this vessel of mercy in the past 40 years

 

 

Mercy Ships dietitians help Mums of cleft palate babies learn to sucsesfully feed them

 

 

Paul Pascal was born with a cleft lip that disfigured his face and a cleft palate that made it impossible to breastfeed properly. His mother watched helplessly as he grew thinner and weaker. People around her called him a monster.

His mother was scared. ‘We thought he would die.’ But her love knew no bounds as she rocked her tiny, hungry, crying baby through long nights. Then she heard that hope had arrived in port.

As soon as the Africa Mercy medical crew in Cameroon examined Paul Pascal they recognised his condition was critical. They rushed him and his Mum on board before the hospital officially opened to monitor his temperature and feeding.

It was touch-and-go for a few days before the little boy began to turn the corner. Then once he was considered safe to leave the hospital, dieticians checked Paul Pascal regularly to track his growth, measure the size of his head, arms and legs, assess his feeding. They continued to encourage his Mum and suggest methods for her to help Paul Pascal have a healthy weight gain.

 

NUTRITION THEN FREE CLEFT LIP AND PALATE SURGERY SAVED HIS LIFE

cLEFT LIP OR PALATE SURGERY WAS OUT OF REACH OF THE FAMILY

 

Gradually Paul began to change. His gaunt face grew round cheeks. His hair grew thick and healthy, and his listless eyes were now content as he grew stronger.

Only 3 months later and weighing 6.4 kg, Paul Pascal was strong enough to undergo the first surgery to restore his cleft lip. His Mum worked hard to help Paul Pascal gain catch-up weight and reach the normal height to weight ratio.

In another five months, he was the size of an average 11-month-old and strong enough to have his cleft palate restored. The operation connected the muscles of his soft palate and closed the gap in the roof of his mouth, enabling him to eat and speak normally as he grows up.

 

5/7 people in the world have no access to essential surgery
Paul Pascal with his mother ready to head home after his free surgeries.

 

 

 

 

Just a few weeks later in 2018, Paul Pascal’s post-op check saw him tip the scales at over 9 kg! No one would recognise the emaciated baby they had first seen. Paul Pascal’s journey to healing was complete and his future is changed forever.

 

 

 

 

2019 July

               FELICIA HAD SUFFERED A LIFETIME OF REJECTIONDisease stole Felicia's nose when she was a young woman

 

She arrived at the Mercy Ship Anastasis with a definite air of expectation. For over 50 years Felisia had lived without a nose.

 

ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND THANK YOU’s
Since 1978 Mercy Ships volunteers have joyfully provided 100,000 free surgeries; changing the future people like Felicia living in poverty in developing nations

 

Felicia never dreamed she would get the surgery she needed

 

When she was just a teenager, a painful wound appeared on Felisia’s arm. She credits this as the beginning of her suffering. After three months the wound almost covered her entire arm. Felisia’s parents took her from one traditional healer to the next, and in the following three years spent all their money in the futile quest for help. She says her anguish was perpetrated by the treatment by the Beninese village witchdoctors.

When the wound on her arm seemed to be healing, Felisia felt a similar malaise on her head. Within days her nose throbbed with pain. After four years of suffering, the pain disappeared – along with her nose!

 

 

VOLUNTEER CREW PROVIDE FREE ESSENTIAL SURGERY the future looks so much brighter for Felicia

 

Through a series of operations onboard the Mercy Ship in 2000, volunteer surgeons reconstructed Felisia’s face. A scalping flap was created from her forehead to build her a completely new nose.

After the many weeks of healing, Felisia was thrilled with her restored face. She laughed and danced through the ships’ wards, flirting with the doctors and asking the men to marry her. ‘I never dreamed of this but now I will look beautiful!’ she declared.

When she finally descended the gangway, Felisia held her head high, proudly stepped out and pointed her nose in the direction of home.

 

 

2019 July

SEKOUBA HAD NO HOPE OF GETTING THE SURGERY HE REQUIRED

The benign tumour was growing and becoming life-threatening

It was just an ordinary morning when Sekouba first noticed a little button-sized growth in his mouth. He showed his mother who told him not to worry about it, that it would probably go away.

He tried to forget about the rapidly growing lump it but that didn’t make it go away. In just 12 months it was as big as a tennis ball, filling Sekouba’s cheek, significantly impacting young Sekouba’s life.

People taunted him and the tumour drew endless stares. ‘What’s that in your mouth?’ they asked, and curiosity soon turned into scornful laughter.

As Sebouba was mercilessly teased, school became unbearable so he stayed at home..  His friends refused to play and even his brothers were ashamed to be seen with him. Every day Sekouba was painfully aware that he was the only boy his age in the village NOT going to school—and everyday school was the only place he wanted to be.

Thousands of people came to Mercy Ships hoping for help

Hoping to find medical care, Sekouba’s distraught family took him to the largest hospital in their region, but no one who could help. But their cries for a cure were miraculously answered when they heard that the hospital ship was coming to Guinea, West Africa.

On the day he came to Mercy Ships, 12-year-old Sekouba held a faded photograph with frayed edges. It showed was a younger, smiling boy with an unblemished face.

‘This used to be me,’ Sekouba sadly explained.

When the Mercy Ships medical screening team accessed him for surgery,  the future changed; Sekouba was handed an appointment card for a free operation onboard the Africa Mercy to remove the benign tumour that had turned his life upside down.

 

 ‘EVERY TIME I PRAY I THANK GOD FOR THIS SHIP’

 

When Sekouba’s mum saw his restored face she was overwhelmed with joy.

‘Every time I pray, I thank God for this ship,’ she declared. ‘I don’t know what we would have done without it.’

This is just one example of how you can help change the life of a little boy who was facing a very bleak future.

Sekouba was only onboard the ship for month for his surgery and recovery — but in that time, you helped change his life forever. With his tumour gone and his face healed, Sekouba’s future is looking very bright indeed.

 

MT EDEN NURSE PLAYS A KEY ROLE IN FINDING PATIENTS NEEDING SURGERY

Mt Eden nurse Vivien helped Sekpuba access essential surgery

 

The Mercy Ships Screening Team goes mobile to find isolated people. Vivien (left) from Auckland explains there is lots of travelling on bumpy roads and long hours, to reach out-of-the-way, desperate people in West Africa’s interior towns and villages. People lack money and transport for even basic healthcare, which often ends up becoming a much bigger problem if left untreated. Something that would be an inconvenience for us in New Zealand can become life-threatening here.’

Despite the overwhelming need, Vivien has great hope. ‘The longer I am with Mercy Ships, the more I realise what is going on behind the scenes – the people involved in making things work,’ she explained.

Vivien has volunteered three times with Mercy Ships, most recently for a 10-month tour-of-duty during which time she met Sekouba.

Right now there are many more people waiting for essential surgery in our next port.

Can we count on you to help us provide life-changing surgery for more children like Sekouba? Could you find $35, or $75 or perhaps $100 to help provide a life changing operation?

2019 July

A passion for ships and a love for a good cause pointed former Commander Larry Robbins towards Mercy Ships, a charity dedicated to medical treatment in the world’s poorest countries. He talks to Navy Today about his work.

The Africa Mercy is the world's largest civilian hospital ship, and the maritime crew play a vital role in the delivery of healthcare services to Africa's poor
Larry Robbins served as navigation officer for the voyage from Tenerife to Brazziville, Republic of Congo

In 2009, when Larry Robbins was asked if he’d like to be on the board of Mercy Ships NZ, he didn’t have to think about it for long.

The retired naval officer and former Commanding Officer of HMNZS MONOWAI had been a long-time “modest” supporter of Mercy Ships, both during his 26-year naval career and after, as Chief Executive Officer of the New Zealand Maritime Museum.

Mercy Ships is a 40-year-old international charity that deploys hospital ships to countries where medical treatment is scarce. They deliver free healthcare services – including surgical treatment.

In 2005 Mr Robbins met Lord Ian McColl, a Vice-Chairman with Mercy Ships International, at the museum. His lordship, also a surgeon volunteer on hospital ships at the time, made a strong impression on him. Later, after retiring from the museum, Mr Robbins was invited to a MSNZ  function and met the Director of Mercy Ships New Zealand. They realised they had met before, in 1997 when MONOWAI was about to be decommissioned and Mercy Ships were eyeing up whether to bid to take her over. A short while after the function he was approached to join the board.

 

Each Mercy Ships volunteer crew member has a passion to serve the poor and uses their skills to help the hospital ship achieve that end
Larry Robbins greets Ebenezer, a maxillofacial patient

“I didn’t have to think about it very much,” says Mr Robbins. “My wife and I had been supporters, and I had met Lord McColl. He was such a lovely man. I

thought, if he’s the mark of the organisation, it’s worth belonging to.”

But three years in, he realised he was the only board member who hadn’t done a crew stint on MV Africa Mercy, the largest and newest ship in the Mercy Ships fleet, and the largest non-governmental floating hospital in the world. The ship spends 10 months a year in Africa, performing up to 2,000 surgeries. It is currently in Guinea; next year it will be in Senegal.

Mr Robbins had a Second Mate’s qualification, albeit 40 years out of date, courtesy of his time in the British Merchant Navy in the seventies. Fed up with unions, he had emigrated to New Zealand in 1974 to join the Royal New Zealand Navy, full of “the optimism of youth”, he says. “So I spoke to Maritime New Zealand and did some courses to get my second mate’s ticket revalidated.”

He ended up doing five tours of duty in Africa Mercy, with tours lasting for up to three months. In total, he’s done 13 months at sea over five years. He’s been Third Officer, Second Officer and – for five glorious weeks in the Canary Islands – second officer, acting Chief Officer, and acting Master. “It was great fun being a second officer, and using my navigation skills. It was a lot more fun than being in command would have been, to be honest.”

 

Mercy Ships operates the world's largest civilian hospital shipOfficers have single cabins or family quarters on board, and there’s even a fully accredited school for children. But Mr Robbins’ wife says: “Ships are your thing.”

It meant Mr Robbins got to see, first hand, how Mercy Ships changed lives in Africa.

“It’s amazing seeing the work they do,” he says. “With Africa Mercy, the hospital and ship are very much intertwined. So as a deck officer, you walk through the hospital on rounds, you see the patients, and you see the horrendous conditions they come from.”

In the Congo, he remembers a woman called Grace, who had a massive facial tumour. “We were in the Congo for four months, and she was our first patient on board. She was reasonably philosophical about her tumour, but came to have it treated. She had an operation, and they rebuilt her jaw. She just blossomed afterwards. It was just wonderful to see.

“It’s the difference they make in the lives of people, who have very little in the way of health care. There’s a flow-on effect to families. For instance, if a child can’t walk, the parents put a lot of time and effort into looking after that child. They can’t go out and earn a living. One family we met, the father had cataracts, and the child couldn’t go school because he had to look after his father. His father got his sight back, and the kid could go to school.”

Mr Robbins observes that in New Zealand hospitals, nursing staff come and go. “On Africa Mercy, nurses have got the time to get to know the patients, because the nurses are living on the ship. Everybody on the ship can adopt a patient. I would talk to them as I was doing my rounds.”

On one trip there were 34 nationalities among the crew, with 12 New Zealanders on board. “There’s a tremendous sense of community and equality. The captain and officers mix and mingle with everybody, and it’s communal dining.”

The hardest volunteers to recruit are those in the technical trades, he says. “And officers need to have a merchant qualification.”

Mr Robbins has just retired as board chair of Mercy Ships NZ, a role he had for three years. His Second Mate’s ticket expired last year, and he doesn’t intend to renew. But his involvement with the charity continues, with speaking tours. He’s qualified as a ship’s security officer and hopes to return to Africa Mercy in that capacity. “I just like ships,” he says.

 

As of last month, Mercy Ships has provided 100,000 free surgical procedures in 40 years of service. These include cleft lip and palate repairs, cataract removal, orthopaedic procedures, facial reconstruction and obstetric fistula repairs.

Each year, around 1,000 people from up to 40 nations, including New Zealand, volunteer their skills and expertise with Mercy Ships. Professionals like officers, seamen, engineers, surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, cooks, and teachers donate their time and skills to the effort.

Mercy Ships are always in need of maritime crew. Opportunities are both short term (a couple of months) through to long term for the senior and management roles.

BY ANDREW BONALLACK, PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM NAVY TODAY

Maritime and naval-trained volunteers help mercy Ships provide free essential surgery for Africa's poor

 

2019 July

IT TAKES MORE THAN DOCTORS AND NURSES TO FLOAT A MERCY SHIP

Maritime compliance is an important part of mercy Ships commitment to excellence and professionalism.

As part of their preparation for life at sea for the next couple of years, New Zealanders Karin and Islay are learning the ropes at the International Support Centre in Texas, where fellow Kiwi Andrew is the Senior Chaplain.

Basic safety training, fire fighting and first aid are just some of the practical classes they are attending with other new recruits from across the globe. The cohort are becoming familiar with our organisation’s values and learning more about God’s heart for the vulnerable.

Karin will be teaching the in the onboard school for crew children, and Islay working will be with the volunteer crew application processes in the HR office. Both their roles are behind the scenes and a hugely essential part of the Mercy Ships ship-board community.

 

 

Before they head to the Africa Mercy as crew for the very first time, Andrew was delighted to speak Kiwi, share lollycake and tell the new volunteers about some of his adventures in Mercy Ships over the past 20+years.

Islay and Karin will be joined by more than 40 other New Zealanders who are volunteering in medical, maritime and operational roles on board the Mercy Ship during the 10-month field assignment in Senegal, West Africa.

There’s a fabulous adventure ahead folks, enjoy the ride!

School teachers and HR personnel are important roles with Mercy Ships

Teachers and human resources personnel volunteer in essential roles with Mercy Ships

2019 July

GRACE NEEDED LIFE-SAVING SURGERY

Grace's life was saved by free surgery on the Mercy Ship

 

 

Grace was one of the first patients up the Africa Mercy gangway in the Republic of the Congo in 2014. It was a race against time to remove the life-threatening, football-sized tumour from the 17-year-old’s face.

 

 

ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND THANK YOU’s, reflects upon the precious patients who received the 100,000 free surgical procedures provided by Mercy Ships since 1978.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Removing the tumour that was choking her required a skilled surgical team - and they were all volunteersf skilled

 

Grace’s journey to healing began with a social media post. A chaplain in a nation neighbouring the Republic of the Congo met Grace in a hospital and was shocked by her huge facial tumour. Counselling and praying with her, he sought help for Grace on his blog. A reader thought Mercy Ships might be able to help. When they were told to come to the Africa Mercy for screening in 2014 they could hardly believe it. A muffled declaration of joy was all Grace could manage through the tumour that filled her mouth.

The teenager was facing death from slow suffocation caused by the tumour growing both outwards and inwards. It was an extreme case in a region where most of what we encounter is already off the chart. The Mercy Ships screening team are experts at looking beyond disfigurement and searching the soul of our patients. In Grace’s case, one nurse describes calling on all her training to look deep into Grace’s eyes and not allow her own eyes to stray inadvertently to the enormous tumour protruding from her patient’s mouth.

THE 2.2 kg TUMOUR THREATENED EVERY ASPECT OF GRACE’S LIFE

Grace after her free life-saving surgery on board the Mercy Ship

 

Grace was wrapped up in love and acceptance as she was admitted to the ship’s ward. She underwent a complex surgery to remove the 2.2 kg tumour, and some week later another to provide her with a prosthetic jaw – all without charge, all provided by professional volunteers.

As she recovered, the difference in Grace was simply remarkable. No longer was she a girl with downcast eyes – her face was beginning to shine. She could smile. She could eat properly. She could have a conversation free of overwhelming shame.

As Grace walked down the gangway headed for home, she looked like a regular sassy teenager, facing her future with newfound hope and confidence.

 

 

2019 July

If you are looking for a change and a chance to pay it forward, working for a few months as a volunteer electrician, engineer or technician on the world’s largest civilian hospital ship in Africa could be just what you need, says Sharon Walls from Mercy Ships.

Mercy Ships is now recruiting for places like Senegal and Liberia where the faith-based charity will be delivering free, world-class healthcare services to needy people in the developing world.

Walls says volunteering on the Mercy Ship is an immensely rewarding experience building both career and character.

“We are looking for skilled, self-sufficient people who can adapt to the challenges of keeping our electrical systems working to support our medical teams in the life-saving operations they perform.”

Electronics technician, Filips Jansons from Allandale near Christchurch, completed a six-month tour recently where he volunteered on Africa Mercy in the electrical engineering department, while the hospital ship was docked in Guinea, West Africa.

He says volunteering on the ship has benefited him greatly and he liked living and working in the on-board community made up of people from different cultures and beliefs.

“We were are able to work alongside each other. I think that’s something you don’t get anywhere else, with such a broad spectrum of age and experience.”

Jansons says he had the opportunity to involve himself in many areas of the ship and work on a variety of systems, machines and equipment, ranging from auto fire detection systems, fuel purifiers, cranes, main distribution switchboards, medical air monitoring systems, many marine electronics, and much more.

“My days on the ship were never the same. As a technician back home, I would need to work for several different industries to gain that sort of experience.”

Filips Jansons, Electronics Technician, at work onboard the Mercy Ship

Over its 40 years of operation, Mercy Ships has performed more than 100,000 free, life-changing or life-saving surgical procedures such as cleft lip and palate repairs, cataract removal, orthopaedic procedures, facial reconstruction and obstetric fistula repairs. Services and materials valued at more than $2.33 billion have directly benefitted more than 2.71 million people in 70 nations.

Sharon Walls says each year, around 1,000 volunteers from up to 40 nations volunteer with Mercy Ships and are supported by 16 offices around the world, including Auckland.

Volunteers for Africa Mercy are volunteers in every sense of the word, raising funds or paying their own way to the African port, and $1000 per month for room and board on the ship. Walls says with everyone contributing to their own way of getting there, every cent donated helps provide essential surgical services for the poor.

Africa Mercy is a 16,000 tonne vessel about the size of a Cook Strait ferry. It has five operating theatres on board and five wards, along with consulting and treatment spaces. The ship generates all its own power and diagnostic equipment connects to experts around the world via satellite.

Walls says everyone works a 45-hour week with rostered time off. Mercy Ships has an immediate vacancy for electrical crew, and vacancies for two or three more in 2020.

From Electrolink magazine, reposted with permission

More about electrical and electronics roles on board Mercy Ships here 

Africa Mercy in the Port of Conakry, with members of Deck & Engineering on the bow.

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2019 July

EDOH HAD NO ACCESS TO ESSENTIAL
SURGERY

Mercy Ships provides laife transforming surgery for people in povertyrcy Sh

Edoh’s parents had all but given her up for dead. The grapefruit-sized tumour on her face was relentlessly expanding into her airway when her parents journeyed 500km – to their last hope.

 

ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND THANK YOU’s
Of all the patients Mercy Ships has served, Edoh from 1995 impacted me deeply. Perhaps you remember her too?

 

 

 

 

A precious friendship developed between Edoh and her nurse Nanette while she was a patient on the hospitalship

 

The line was heartbreakingly long when they arrived at the Togo port in West Africa, where the Anastasis was docked in 1995. Edoh was gasping for breath when her father desperately raised her above his head and passed her to the person ahead.

As each person in the waiting multitude saw the enormity of Edoh’s tragedy, she was lifted forward again. Eventually, the terrified child was ‘crowd-surfed’ to the front of the enormous, seething crowd and tossed, screaming, over the port gate.

Edoh was embraced by loving care as her urgent medical needs were met. She began the long journey to healing which saw the benign tumour removed, and her face and her future restored.

 

 

LOVE AND MEDICAL CARE FROM THE MERCY SHIPS VOLUNTEER CREW RESTORED EDOH

Edoh family has lost hope she would live a fulfilling life as an adult, look at ehr now!

 

 

Edoh won the heart of the crew and Mercy Ships staff around the world as she heroically overcame all obstacles, against all odds.

Edoh family had lost hope she would live a fulfilling life as an adult, but look at her now! Seven years later this remarkable girl returned to the Mercy Ship for a follow-up operation, and she remembers her first visit with clarity. Unable to understand the language of those around her, she says (through an interpreter) ‘Everything came flooding back; the care and kindness of the medics spoke louder than any conversation ever could.’ Her life was saved and transformed by mercy.

 

 

Years later a volunteer anaesthetist meets the child patient whose life was saved with free tumour removal surgery from Mercy Ships

 

LOVE that smile. LOVE that girl,’ says Nanette, echoing the hearts of many across the globe whose lives have been forever changed by the courage of Edoh.

Edoh was a young woman of almost 17 the last time a Mercy Ship was in Togo in 2010. She told us she wanted to study and become a nurse. Years later a volunteer anaesthetist meets the child patient whose life was saved with free tumour removal surgery from Mercy Ships

Dr Keith Thomson recalls, “I did Edoh’s anaesthetic in 1995. We had to replace her blood twice by volume during surgery! I saw her in Togo in 2012, and again in 2015 in Benin.”

 

 

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2019 July

Only a year after the swelling started, the benign tumour in Hawa’s mouth had grown so large that she could barely eat. Their neighbours cruelly declared she was cursed. But Hawa found hope on a Mercy Ship.

In 2005 in Liberia we met Hawa, and met her again years later as a beautiful young adult. Read more about her beautiful journey to healing here

One hundred thousand free surgical procedures for people living in poverty have been provided by Mercy Ships since the not-for-profit began in 1978.

2019 July