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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.

 

 

 

 

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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?

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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

 

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Dr Keith Chapman treating Laurence

I was there the day the dentist found a piece of a broken knife that had been hidden in Laurence’s cheek for 19 years! Despite frequent pain, the blade wasn’t discovered until he headed to the Mercy Ships dental clinic to deal with his ‘toothache’.

Read Laurence’s amazing story at https://mercyships.org.nz/2018/10/15/14-laurence-ghana-2006/

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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


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Ward Nurse from Lower Hutt.

To the long term crew onboard Robyn is affectionately known as a ‘repeat offender’. This Guinea field service was her eighth self-funded, three-month trip volunteering on the Mercy Ship providing post-operative surgical care during the field services the hospital ship was docked in Congo, Benin, Madagascar, Cameroon and Guinea.

‘I normally nurse adults,’ Robyn explains, ‘but looking after children here adds to the best part of it. They just become part of you and I miss them terribly when they are discharged from the ship wards.’ Her work in Guinea included the care of children like Sema, who received major surgery to correct his extremely bowed legs. Sometimes she was assigned to the ‘burns’ ward where both children and adults recovered after surgery released joints previously immobilised by deep scars resulting from horrendous burns. Robyn’s early work onboard also included the care of girls and women receiving restorative surgery after traumatic birth injuries. In each ward, Robyn treated and ‘loved-on’ the patents in a way that is uniquely Mercy Ships.

See Friday’s TVNZ BREAKFAST interview with Robyn here


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Receptionist from Taupō.

At home she’s a commercial pilot and flight instructor, onboard she works in reception where, under the oversight of the Captain, she helps staff the essential communications hub of the Mercy Ship 24/7.‘I am volunteering with Mercy Ships because my heart is to help people in whatever capacity I can,’ explains the 24-year-old. ‘Our aim is to bring some aid and to strengthen, and train their health care providers and systems. We can help path the way for Guinea to heal itself. Unless we do, when we leave nothing will change.’

While not on duty, one of Esther’s favourite things to do is be a ‘buddy’ to one of the paediatric patients onboard for surgery. Five-year-old M’Muh, pictured here with Esther, had a long recovery after free surgery removed the benign growth that drooped over her forehead like a sack and was beginning to dislodge her eye. In the weeks following M’Muh’s operation, Esther’s TLC and fun-loving games worked alongside state-of-the-art medical care to see the little girl emerge from her shell of rejection and meet the world with a grin.

Esther and M’Mah

Read M’Muh’s story here

‘The work that Mercy Ships is doing is of insurmountable importance,’ reflects Esther. ‘The ripple effect that Mercy Ships has on the nations we visit is immeasurable. When people receive aid from the ship, they don’t keep it a secret. They tell anyone and everyone, and it spreads joy and hope. And hope is one of the most powerful things a broken nation can hold onto.’

Since the Sunday team was on board, Esther took up a new role in the ship’s housekeeping department. She totally loves the fun working with her international crewmates swabbing the decks and keep the ship in, well, ship-shape.


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Radiologist from Epsom

Miriam White heard about Mercy Ships during her training as a radiographer. She dreamed about volunteering for five years before the opportunity finally came her way in 2018. ‘The stories I read about patients they’ve provided surgery to touched my heart. I wanted to use my professional skills to make a difference and offer hope to people in need.’

In November Miriam packed her bags and made the long trek from Auckland to Guinea, West Africa for her seven-week tour-of-duty. She worked alongside another radiographer onboard. Miriam’s tasks included performing x-rays on the Mercy Ships patients as part of their pre-surgery assessment, sometimes during their stay, and before they were discharged.

Miriam attended Sema at ‘week 4 post surgery’ as his major orthopaedic surgery required monitoring.  ‘I loved taking the discharge x-rays for the children who had received osteotomies (corrective surgery on their legs). It was exciting to see them standing straight for the first time.’

Nabinti had a CT-scan performed by Miriam on her first day at work on board! The images were a vital part of her assessment and treatment plan.  Normally there is only one CAT scan for the entire population 12 million people in Guinea, West Africa and accessing the service at $250 a time is well beyond the reach of the vast majority.  Miriam’s services doubles that capacity and, as with all mercy Ships services, it is provided free to charge to the patients.


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Physiotherapist from Hawkes Bay

As a sports therapist with 17 years’ experience, Emma has many high profile clients including an impressive list of All Blacks. What is equally impressive is her commitment to give her best, personally and professionally, to people in extreme poverty in West Africa.

This is Emma’s first experience with Mercy Ships. She read about the charity in various magazines and thought the concept of using her skills in sounded ‘amazing’. Emma worked extensively with Sema after surgery straightened his legs. It was her job to reteach him how to walk.

‘I greet, hug and ‘high five’ each patient numerous times each rehab session,’ shares Emma. ‘Asaqui’ (high five or put it there in Susu) was the first word I learnt here in Guinea.’

‘I tell each patient and their caregivers how awesome they are, how proud they should be of their son/daughter/niece/nephew/neighbour, and how well they are working at doing the exercises.’ Emma works hard to communicate through her translator to each child that she understands how tough the operation was, and how tough the exercises are. She reminds each patient that they are incredible and unique. 

The rehab team perform their roles to the highest possible standard by using clinical reasoning, discussing each case, and by working hard to put energy and expertise into every child. ‘We want to ensure each patient has the best possible outcome after surgery.’ Emma believes the work of Mercy Ships is extremely important to the nations the NGO serves. ‘There are no orthopaedics surgeons, nor rehab teams nor physios who provide this treatment in Guinea. This means all the lower limb deformities the children here have would go untreated and worsen as they grow – therefore affecting their quality of life, their family’s quality of life, including their opportunity for education and marriage.’

‘I turn up to work each day and can’t wait to work and play with these amazing, tough and beautiful humans. My job is most definitely one of the best on the Africa Mercy.’


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Purser from Matamata.

We meet Janine as she drives Dr Neil Thomson from the Mercy Ship to Alya’s village. She had worked a lot of overtime this week in her role as the Mercy Ships Purser, but she is happy to negotiate the ship’s 4WD through the hectic, erratic traffic of Conakry in order to find the little boy who had surgery onboard five years ago.

Janine is the longest serving of the Kiwi crew with seven years of volunteer work and ten nations under her belt. She works directly under the Captain and deals with many of the ship’s legalities including immigration and customs. Imagine transporting medical supplies and food stores for a hospital and 450 crew members a world away – the details and headaches are all part of her job that strategically undergirds the ability of this vessel of mercy to serve the surgical needs of Africa’s poor. ‘I am forever changed,’ she says, ‘mostly for the better I think. It has opened up my eyes and given me a thirst to learn more about who I am and about who God is. Also, I am more prepared now to be pulled way out of my comfort zone – way more than when I first came to the ship.’

While Janine’s role deals primarily with the legalities of bringing a ship, a crew and supplies in and out of port, she reflects on the ‘little things’ that stick in her mind as meaningful moments; ‘The DHL delivery guy that I laugh and joke with every few days, the local people that are employed to work in my department that are real prayer warriors, our Gurkha who brings me a cup of Chai when I am standing on the gangway watching for a delivery truck to find its way to us, the albino African guy that always says hello and shakes my hand when I am waiting for new crewmembers to arrive inside an airport. It’s the little things that I tend to remember and they always involve people and their hearts. The people of Africa are just like you and me – they just want the opportunity to work hard to provide for their families and they want to be loved.’