The very first patient


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


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.




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