EPISODE 5: BLOOD AND WATER
Maimouna’s journey to the ship is dramatic as ship doctor Nerida, who operated on Maimouna four years ago, travels to Guinea which has only recently been cleared of Ebola to find Maimouna and bring her back to the ship for critical surgery. Lighter moments are told in the story of Nanjire and Nadire, twin girls with identical bowed legs.
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.
In 2012, the Africa Mercy visited Guinea Conakry. One of the thousands of patients the surgeons operated on, was Maimouna, a 13 year old girl with a neurofibroma (a tumour that grows through the nerves). This type of tumour is mostly benign, but can be locally very aggressive and destructive.
Now, 4 years later, Mercy Ships received an unsettling message. Maimouna’s tumour has grown back. Dr Nerida, who operated on Maimouna then, is at the end of her field service in Benin. She wants to fly to Guinea before returning home to Australia, and visit Maimouna, who has no idea that her case has been discussed by the surgeons.
Maimouna’s follow up surgery was scheduled in 2014, but was unfortunately delayed because of the largest outbreak of Ebola in West-Africa ever. Because to this delay, Dr Nerida hopes help will not be too late for Maimouna. With neurofibroma, there is always the chance that the tumour will grow back. Only Dr Nerida had never expected that it would grow back so fast. During her visit, another complication surfaced. Maimouna is losing sight in her remaining eye. A visit to a local specialist is arranged and there the news is not good. They discover that Maimouna has a genetic degenerative eye disease and that her sickness is irreversible. Her eye cannot tell her brain what she is seeing. In a few years time, Maimouna will loose sight completely in her eye. But this sad news is balanced by hope. This setback, will not change the fact that Maimouna will have her tumor removal operation.
For Maimouna and her big sister Amamata who accompanies her to Benin, it is the first time they are on a plane. It was quite an adventure for both of them.
When Dr Tertius Venter operated on Maimouna 4 years ago, he knew that the tumour might grow back. But if she would not have had the surgery then, the tumour would have doubled in size by now. With this follow up operation, he hopes he will have a chance to try to remove it all.
During the one-and-a-half-hour operation, Dr Tertius discovers the tumour is larger than the scans previously revealed. It also confirms that the tumor has not reached her brain. But neurofibroma is unpredictable and even now, there is still a chance that the tumor may return.
With the surgery a succes, it is now up to Maimouna to start healing. Not only physically, but also spiritually and mentally. She has to try to come out of the shell she has created for herself and start to reconnect with friends, be part of her community again. For the surgeons and nurses who helped Maimouna, to see this change right happen in front of them, is the best payment to could ever get.
When the Africa Mercy returns to Guinea Conakry in a couple of years, Maimouna will have a chance to visit her doctors again and show them her progress.
Meet NADIRE & NANJIRE
Nadire and Nanjire are identical twins from the lake-side capital of Porto Novo, Benin. They live with their parents and grandmother in a busy two-storey compound that’s home to dozens of families. In the shared courtyard – despite their bowed legs – the girls happily play with other children. They are full of energy. They run, dance, skip and jump. ‘They play more than children with straight legs!’ their mother Kadjija says. ‘In one leap they can jump on top of the TV and down again! They’re able to do anything.’
The twins have unique personalities – Nanjire is clever and bright, and Nandire is calm and kind. And as is the case with many twins, they have a special bond. “They don’t let each other down. My twins love each other,” Kadjija says.
On the whole, everyday life for the twins is good. What’s troubling is what will happen as they develop into adults. ’They go to school, but even if they finish, who will employ them? No one would want to employ them. If it happens that their legs can’t be fixed, they will be without a future. That’s what hurts me,’ says Kadjija. It’s her fear that as their mobility worsens over time they’ll become increasingly dependant on other people and may only find work making handicrafts. This is a real shame given they are smart, capable children who have the full support of their parents to complete their school education.
In late 2016 Nadire and Nanjire were two of 150 patients selected to receive orthopaedic surgery onboard the Africa Mercy. The procedure straightened their legs, giving the girls a chance at living productive lives as able-bodied adults. Kadjija says, ’When the twins got home, they told everyone they saw a ship. The only place they’ve been outside of our home is school. They talked about it all week along. They spoke about the stairs and everything they saw….the toys, the number of bikes!’
Kadjija feels a great sense of relief that her girls now have a future. I said to myself, “God will make a way one day. Now, God has made a way. God’s time has come.”
MEET Dr GARY PARKER
Gary Parker is the Chief Medical Officer on board the Africa Mercy. He is the key surgeon who operates on the extraordinary and large facial tumours that occur. No-one embodies Mercy Ships like Dr. Gary. His particular speciality is large Maxillo Facial Craniofacial tumours, cleft lip and cleft palate, and ear-nose-throat diseases are life-threatening conditions for children and adults throughout Africa.
An uncorrected cleft palate makes it difficult, if not impossible, for a baby to nurse or drink from a bottle. Even benign facial tumours can grow to such large and distorted sizes that the capacity for an adult to function as a normal member of the community is impossible. Left untreated, tumours can grow to the point of being life-threatening as a person struggles to breathe or eat, and render the victim a social outcast.
Gary has spent his professional life on board the ship- over 30 years of continual service. He and his wife Susan met and have brought up two children on board. His children have attended university in the USA, and Gary and Susan are now spending more time on land to support them.
MEET DR NERIDA MOORE
Nerida is a young Aussie doctor who previously volunteered on the ship as a surgeon specialising in plastic and reconstructive surgery. She has now decided to retrain as a Paediatrician, partly as a result of her experiences as a volunteer onboard.
Nerida has volunteered over half a dozen times onboard the ship and continues to work in other parts of Africa including most recently in Togo.
MEET DR FRANK HAYDON
Dr Frank Hayden loves working with his hands. He’s an orthopedic surgeon and amateur blacksmith – two preoccupations he says have great similarities.
Dr Frank Hayden has been working with Mercy Ships since 2009 as an orthopaedic surgeon and functions as a lead surgeon and specialty consultant. His wife Kathleen also works on the ship as a theatre nurse. After their first trip to Benin and seeing the amazing impact their services had on the kids and their families, they knew they had found their place.
MEET THE KIWI BEHIND THE SCENES
Madagascar and Benin may be exotic sounding holiday locations, but over the past nine months Stanmore Bay nurse Hannah Peters Ieru saw a side of everyday life in Africa that most tourists never glimpse.
Experience gained from previous tours-of-duty with the not-for-profit allowed Hannah to work in the hospital ship’s wound care team. This small group of specialised nurses is dedicated to treating and dressing the wounds of patients like Maimouna who have received extensive surgery like skin grafts after tumour removals, or burns reconstruction. The very delicate and painful process requires enormous skill and a huge level of compassion as the paediatric patients particularly struggle with this essential element of their healing
On a mission to provide free surgical and healthcare services not usually accessible within developing nations, Hannah completed a third season of service in as many years with the world’s largest civilian hospital ship, Africa Mercy. She was aboard the 16,000 tonne Mercy Ship docked for 10 months in Cotonou, Benin – a city seething with 780,000 people in poverty.
‘Being on board the ship longer this time meant I could also a part of each specialty, and help out in more hospital departments. From a nursing point of view I was able to deepen my knowledge and skills. I was also able to help out more as I had more experience.
‘What I loved and valued in the job was being able to be alongside patients from the start of their healing journey to the very end. I could meet them when they were feeling so vulnerable, help them along, and observe them growing in strength physically and emotionally. It’s so hard to put into words what it means to see someone find what they had been seeking for so long – healing. It will change how they see themselves and alter their lives forever; it’s a beautiful thing.’
Spending extended time with her patients over the duration of their surgical recovery was a highlight for the 32 year old, and she feels the people she has served on board will always hold a special place in her heart. Ms Peters describes two remarkable people she encountered.
‘I loved feeling like I could make the ship home, ‘reflects Hannah. ‘The people and community felt like family. I really enjoyed working with the people I lived with; people who have the same passion.’
While Hannah is eager to serve on Africa’s floating hospital again, she has no definite plans other than gaining further her nursing experience. ‘Currently I don’t have a job as I needed to leave my previous one to serve on board. But I am in the interview process and really excited about what’s to come.’
More than 1,950 free surgeries were provided during the Benin field service and 1,961 local medical professionals were upskilled or mentored by the Mercy Ships medical team, building medical capacity within the nation.
Be part of the Mercy Ships story – by becoming a volunteer or donating today.