2019 August

SENEGAL WELCOMES MERCY SHIPS WITH OPEN ARMS

 

A handful of Kiwis were amongst the crew vigorously waving flags from the ship’s deck as the Africa Mercy arrived in Dakar, Senegal for the vessel’s first field service; the former flagship Anastasis served here in 1993. This nation 3/4 the size of New Zealand with 3 times our population. It is one of the most stable democracies in Africa with a long history of peacekeeping, but the population struggles at the lowest end of the UN Human Development Index which measures the quality of life.

 

Senegal borders The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Mauritania. Senegalese people are 96% Muslim, and speak French, Wolof and many other dialects (we need lots of translators!)

 

More than 40 New Zealanders will volunteers their skills and expertise in medical, maritime and operational roles in Senegal over the next 10 months, helping to provide essential surgery for the nation’s poor.

 

Mercy Ships is providing free surgeries in Senegal

Why Mercy Ships is in Senegal

The Senegalese people

  • Have 7 physicians per 100,000, compared to NZ’s 285 per 100,000
  • Live in multidimensional poverty at 164/189 in the  UN Human Development Index
  • Lose their children to infant mortality 10x more often than in NZ
  • Have a life expectancy of 60 (M) or 64 (F); 20 years less than Kiwis
  • Typically earn $2,700 per year

 

 

 

2019 August

SHIPS OF MERCY

The first surgery performed ona Mercy Ship was a cataract surgery in Mexico, in 1987

 

ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND THANK YOU’s
Began with Señora Refugio Camacho, a Mexican grandmother blinded by dense cataracts.

 

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

 

 

The first Mercy Ships patient received surgery on board the Anastasis

 

Excerpt from ‘Ships of Mercy’ by Don Stephens

‘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.

 

 

I CAN SEE! I CAN SEE!

Anastasis, the first Mercy Ships vesselWith 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.

And that was also the scene the next morning as well, as everyone excitedly gathered around Señora Camacho to watch Dr Dyer carefully remove the eye patch.

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.’

 

After five years of volunteer toil converting the former cruise liner into a floating hospital, Senora Camacho was the first patient to receive what now numbers more than 100,000 free surgical procedures provided by Mercy Ships for people living in poverty.

 

Mercy Ships founders Don and Deyon Stephens
Mercy Ships founders Don and Deyon Stephens share with one of the hospital ship patients

2019 August

THE WIDOW’S TUMOUR STARTED WITH A TOOTHACHE

SAlematu had no access to the surgery that would save her life

It all started with a toothache when Salematu was 24. As a first-year nursing student, she knew she should go to the dentist, but she was struggling. She had just lost her husband unexpectedly, leaving her with two young daughters. Money was low, and medical costs were high. But the pain in her mouth grew worse. Eventually, waiting was no longer an option. After examination, the doctor’s news was not good — she was told it was a tumour that was growing slowly but steadily.

Over the next two years, she watched helplessly as it took over her face, pressing into her mouth and making it more difficult to speak or swallow. It twisted her nose. It began to creep closer to her left eye, threatening her vision.

All the while, Salematu was told the same thing by doctors: there was nothing they could do. They did not have the medical capacity to help her. Over time, she was forced to abandon her dream of finishing nursing school. What use was it to continue studying if her tumour kept her from working?

Tired of the looks and comments from strangers in the street, she stopped going out. She became relegated to her home, spending most of her time with her two young daughters. She was ashamed to be seen, embarrassed to let even her daughters witness her changing face.

Kiwi nurse Shali Clemant (left) helps care for Salematu post-surgery

‘I FELT HELPLESS.’

The first glimmer of hope came the day her uncle called her with news from the port city of Conakry — a hospital ship was arriving to perform free surgeries! Her heart was filled with happiness at the hope of release from the tumour. Salematu got on a bus and made the journey to the capital city alone, leaving her daughters behind with their grandmother.

It was hard to say goodbye not knowing how long it might be until she saw them again, especially without a way to keep in contact. But she knew that this surgery would not only save her life — it would save her daughters from growing up as orphans.

The day she walked up the gangway to receive her operation, Salematu said she felt joy down to her bones.

The next two weeks in the hospital were a blur. After her successful surgery, she bonded with the nurses who gave her round-the-clock care. “The nurses are my favourite,” Salematu said. “They are so kind to me. They have all become my friends.” After a few days, she was able to look into the mirror and see her new face for the first time after surgery.

“I feel beautiful. I feel good. I feel hopeful,” Salematu marvelled.

A HOPEFUL FUTURE FOR HER CHILDREN

During her stay on the Africa Mercy, Salematu couldn’t stop thinking about the moment she would be reunited with her daughters when they would finally see her without the tumour that had hindered her smile for two long years. Without a way to send them photos, she knew the transformation would be overwhelming.

After a few days, she was able to look into the mirror and see her new face for the first time after surgery.

“I feel beautiful. I feel good. I feel hopeful,” she marvelled.

During her stay on the Africa Mercy, Salematu couldn’t stop thinking about the moment she would be reunited with her daughters, when they would finally see her without the tumour that had hindered her smile for two long years. Without a way to send them photos, she knew the transformation would be overwhelming.

“They will see me soon, and they will not believe it,” Salematu smiled. “They will be so happy!”

The day she was told she could return home, Salematu said she felt like dancing! She was so excited to finally hold her daughters close, and to return to pursuing her dreams of finishing nursing school, with the hope of one-day pouring love and care into others.

These plans for a life that once felt powerless now felt full of limitless possibility. Salematu’s miracle changed her life, and she couldn’t wait to share her joy with the world.

 

2019 August

VIDEO: Behind-the-scenes geeks, technical crew and other unsung heroes enable the state-of-the-art hospital ship to operate in often challenging technical environments in developing nations ports. They play a hidden yet vital role in the provision of free essential surgery for some of Africa’s poorest people.

The toughest tech you’ll ever love from Mercy Ships New Zealand on Vimeo.