EPISODE 2: SKIN DEEP

Synopsis 

The volunteer medics continue to select and treat extraordinary cases of medical need. Featured patients include Ruth & Marina – two 5-year-old burns victims who become best friends on the ship, Miracle – a young boy with disfigured hands who longs to play drums like his father, and Innocent – a local barber who has transformational surgery to remove multiple tumours from his face and body, only to suffer a near-fatal setback.

Continue reading below, learn about the patients and volunteers featured in this episode, plus explore ways you can be part of the Mercy Ships story too. 

PATIENT STORIES

Meet MIRACLE

When Miracle was 14 months old his mother, Marcelline, put him down for a nap. While he slept, she began cooking and put a pot of water over the fire. Marcelline stepped outside to go to the well to get some more water, and while she was gone Miracle woke up and went into the kitchen looking for her. When Marcelline returned from the well she found Miracle standing with his hands in the boiling water. She ran to him and pulled him away, but it was too late.

Marcelline tried to find help for her son’s burns. She took him to a hospital in nearby Togoudo where they tried to clean the wound, but there was not much they could do. Later, as the skin on Miracle’s hands began to scar and the tissue began to contract, she tried other traditional healers and a witch doctor, but had no luck.

Over time, the skin on Miracle’s hands contracted more, making it impossible for him to move his fingers. He lost significant use of his hand.

Miracle’s father, Fiacre, runs a dance and drumming troupe in Ouidah, Benin. Miracle takes after his father and also loves to play the drums. In fact, he’s often found drumming on anything he can find. Fiacre heard about Mercy Ships by word of mouth from someone in a nearby village. Fiacre and Marcelline used Google Maps to find the Don Bosco screening centre.

On the first morning that Marcelline took Miracle to the screening center, she could not find the end of the line. There were so many people she left and tried again the next day, and the next. Finally on her third try they were able to get through the gate and see Mercy Ships screening team.

Miracle was operated on by Dr Tertius and Dr Konrad. They grafted skin from Miracle’s thigh to his hands, and after an extensive operation they used K-wires to set the fingers straight.

As he recovered on the wards Miracle enjoyed playing with the other patients. Before long, his hands healed enough that he could drum again. With the support of Mercy Ships physical therapy team, Miracle now has function in his hands.

Meet RUTH & MARINA

In the plastic surgery department, it is the first day of screening for patients. Ruth’s family anxiously awaits herexamination by Dr Tertius Venter and his team, as does Marina’s family. The team has the heavy responsibility of deciding who can and cannot be treated on the ship, as places are limited.

The girls were strangers, but their stories were tragically similar.

Ruth, 5, was around 1 year old when an entire pot of hot soup spilled on her. Her parents were desperate and could not afford the necessary care. Severe burns lead to the formation of large deforming scars resulting from the retraction and hardening of the skin (contracture). As a result, Ruth was no longer able to lift one of her arms above her head. “People pity her! Her mum declared. “She no longer smiles and eats. She still sits in a corner, her eyes sad. “

Marina, also 5 years old, for her part received a pot of boiled fruit juice on her when she was 1 year old. Her mum was in a hurry and had left the hot pot unattended for a while. Marina had been burned all over her body and her dad believed to lose his daughter that day.

The two girls are eligible for an operation aboard the Africa Mercy. If the treatment is successful, their lives will be drastically changed. And, beyond that, also that of their family.

Marina and Ruth arrive at the port together, accompanied by their mother and… their favorite doll. They do not yet fully realise what awaits them: an operation, a few weeks of immobilization with splints and, then, months of physiotherapy. The process will be long and painful, but they begin it as the best friends in the world.

Ruth is the first to be operated, quickly followed by Marina. Even though injuries are comparable, one patient is never the other. If Ruth’s operation goes smoothly, Marina wakes up completely disoriented and confused. In tears, she screams to see her daddy. After a fair amount of time and the administration of some medication, Marina is finally at peace.

Ruth and Marina’s limbs are immobilised with plaster splints to limit their movement as much as possible and thus speed up the healing process. A long and difficult process of revalidation follows for the two girlfriends. The team of physiotherapists obviously do everything they can to approach this as a fun game, accompanied by songs and dances.

After four weeks, the girls are healed enough to be able to go home. But they are absolutely not anxious to get off the ship. Will they meet again? Will they be able to remain friends? Do not worry. At Mercy Ships, we are sure they will be best friends for life !!!

VOLUNTEER STORIES

MEET the barki family

Brian is a young Chinese-American anesthesiologist from Oklahoma who currently lives full-time on board with his wife Jamie, son BJ, daughters Maya and Hanna.

He’s the anesthesia supervisor, a role he took over from Dr. Michele White, who he cites as one of his mentors. The role involves staffing the hospital with anaesthesia providers and then running the team.

Brian tends to go back and forth between the three operating theatres running concurrently, supervising each anesthetic provider. He also works as the lead anaesthesiologist on specific cases.

Two years before coming to Mercy Ships, at age 33, he had already been made Anaesthesia Supervisor at a major hospital in Tulsa, USA. In his younger years he was a junior professional tennis player.

He’s calm and collected in the operating theatre and clearly very skilled and knowledgeable about the latest developments in the field. For example he is introducing to Mercy Ships the practice of administering ‘blocks’, where specific nerves are numbed, which means you can use less general anesthetic and the patient has fewer side effects.

MEET Dr Lindsay sherriff

Lindsey and his wife Dianne met whilst they were studying Medicine at university in Adelaide, South Australia.

They both completed Post Graduate training, and settled in a small rural town. They practiced together as Rural Family Medicine Practitioners – combining anaesthetics, obstetrics with general physician and paediatrics work.

After 25 years in private practice, Lindsay and Dianne believed it was the right time to follow a long-term desire to use their medical skills abroad. They feel privileged to take up this work with Mercy Ships.

MEET DR TERTIUS VENTER

Ten years ago Tertius Venter made the decision to close his private practice in East London, South Africa to become a volunteer surgeon for Mercy Ships. Since then has dedicated his life to providing life-changing plastics and reconstructive surgery for the poorest of the poor in west Africa. Initially he funded his volunteer work by performing cosmetic surgery in developed nations 60-90 days a year but since 2012 has become a full time volunteer. He continues to be supported by the donations of a large private cosmetic surgery practice in the UK.

Tertius first encountered Mercy Ships in 2000 when the Mercy Ship Anastasis docked in his homeport of East London, South Africa. He was invited to visit on-board and it was an experience that would change his worldview forever. He realised that his skills and training as a plastic surgeon could make an incredible difference to the lives of those who would otherwise have no access to surgical care.

Tertius is passionate about raising awareness of the fact that one third of the world’s population has no access to surgical care and through his writing, workshops and fundraising activities encourages others to get involved in meeting.

MEET THE KIWI BEHIND THE SCENES

Christchurch operating theatre nurse Jess Doney’s skills were stretched to the limit during Innocent’s surgery. He was to have multiple tumours removed from his face and body when he suffered a near-fatal setback.  You won’t see her on screen, but she was playing her part behind the scenes.

After five years as an intensive care nurse at Christchurch Hospital, Jess Doney is used to dealing with crisis. Her acquired skills have been put to the test as she recently stepped into a new and extraordinary surgical environment.

The 26-year-old nurse from Christchurch signed on articles as a volunteer nurse aboard the Africa Mercy, the world’s largest civilian hospital ship. Her two-month tour-our-duty in Benin, West Africa sees Jess providing care for patients who receive free essential surgery that is inaccessible in their own nation.

Jess works primarily in the ship’s ICU, and one of the five wards where she cares for patients of all ages recovering after the removal of huge, benign yet life-threatening, tumours. She describes an incident involving Innocent, which affected her deeply.

Many of the 450-strong crew were attending an evening meeting when one of Jess’  post-operative patients was rushed back into surgery with a severe haemorrhage. A rare announcement was made over the ship’s PA system calling for the emergency medical team.

Jess swiftly headed three decks down to the ICU ward with other medical crewmembers. Immediately she was put to work “drawing up medicine, giving fluid, and preparing the patient to receive anaesthesia.” Colleagues still in the meeting described how, one after another, pagers beeped and surgeons, nurses and axillary staff dashed to the hospital deck to attend the clinical emergency.

Then another statement was made over the ship’s PA system. “Crew with B-positive blood type were called to the hospital to donate blood as the emergency was unfolding,” she says. Blood from previously approved donors was both drawn and administered to the patient within ten minutes. “The whole ship was called to stop and pray,” Jess adds.

The patient was successfully stabilised, and in the small hours of the morning off-duty personnel returned to their bunks for a few hours of sleep before the next shift. The following day, Jess cared for the patient in the ICU.

“Mercy Ships is unique in their work ethic, their willingness to help and serve the people of Benin,” she comments in reflection. “I would definitely volunteer again.”

There has also been a shift in her own perspective, according to Jess, “Mainly in being thankful for the ‘little things’. I visit at the boys’ orphanage here in Cotonou regularly. One week the boys were asked what they were thankful for. Their responses were along the lines of,  ‘ I am thankful because I am alive’, and ‘Because I woke up today – lots of people didn’t!’” These comments from little boys have made her think differently about just being grateful for life, and the simple joys that each day brings.

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