EPISODE 6: THE LONG ROAD HOME

Synopsis 

The screening team travels up country to remote areas of Benin to find patients who need help, like Faith – a young girl from Kandi with severe bilateral bowed legs, Jonas from Ghana who had surgery on the ship 10 years earlier but his facial tumour has grown back, and  Rachidi  – a teenager who suffered burns on his foot as a child that still prevent him from walking normally.

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 FAITH

As the Mercy Ships screening team goes up country, they will visit five more cities throughout Benin , looking for patients who are in urgent need of free surgery. The team led by supervisor Nate Claus, arrives in the city of Kandi, in the far north of the country. There, they meet 3-year old Faith, who has bilateral bowed legs.

Her legs started to bow outward at age one. Without surgical intervention, they will continue to grow worse.

Faith receives an appointment for surgery on the Africa Mercy. Upon arriving at the ship, Faith is very nervous.  She askes her father what they are doing on this strange ship. Why are they there ? But Faith is not the only one who is nervous. Her father is too, when they finaly bring his little girl to theatre. During the surgery, he walks the halls of the surgery ward continuously.

It took orthopaedic surgeon Frank Haydon only 15 minutes to straighten Faith’s right leg and another 15 minutes for the left leg. Both legs are put in casts. He is very optimistic about the outcome of the surgery. He has performed this procedure more than 400 times succesfully.

A few days after the surgery, Faith is already able to take her first steps on straight legs, assisted by physical therapist Sarah. Today, Faith’s mother is there to support her. It is very important that Faith starts to walk as soon as possible. Keeping her in bed longer will only prolong her recovery. It takes some time for Faith to find her balance, but in the end she is a champion.

Two weeks after the surgery, Faith is ready to go home to her family with two straight legs.

Meet JONAS

Jonas is accompanied by his brother Moses, his constant compagnon, from their home country of Ghana. He has been treated before by Mercy Ships and is one of several patiënts to have been selected for a follow-up visit.

Since his operation in 2006, Jonas’ tumour, a neurofibroma, has grown back considerably. He was originally operated by plastic surgeon Dr Tertius Venter, and now once again he is examined by the same surgeon. This time, Dr Tertius wants to remove the tumour as much as possible, all if he can. This will reduce the chance of the tumour growing back again. Jonas is given a date for surgery one month later.

Jonas’ first surgery was quite conventional. However, better operating techniques have been developed in the meantime. Dr Tertius wants to be more radical this time and try to remove the tumour completely.

But during surgery, the tumour is found to be spread more extensively than first expected. As the tumour has spread around his ear canal, there is a serious risk of Jonas losing his hearing.

One of the caracteristics of neurofibroma removal surgery, is the massive bloodloss. Halfway through the surgery, Jonas has lost already two liters.  (Normal blood volume is about 4.5 litres.) Jonas is given blood transfusions coming from the ‘”live” bloodbank on board of the Africa Mercy. Volunteers donate blood upon need and request.  After five hours of being operated on and a total blood loss of 5 liters, Jonas is finaly stabalised and in the recovery ward.

Unfortunately, Dr Tertius was not able to remove 100% of Jonas’ tumour. This will give him a 20 % chance of recurrance of the tumor, but only in locaised areas. The whole tumour will not grow back again. Dr Tertius made the decision to save Jonas’ hearing instead.

But Jonas is not out of the woods yet. He is starting to run a fever, caused by an infection in his wound. These post-op infections are a frequently recurrent problem. As patients are most often malnurished, this also affects their immune system and their strength to battle these infections. This problem will only delay Jonas’ healing process, but it will not influence the final result.

After a month on the ship, Jonas finaly gets to look at himself in the mirror. He will be transfered to the Mercy Ships Hope Center (Hospital Out-Patient Center), where he will continue his recovery. His first visitor there is his brother Moses. Both brothers are happy to see each other after their long seperation.  In a few weeks time, Jonas will be able to go back to his hometown in Ghana, a changed man.

VOLUNTEER STORIES

MEET NATE CLAUS

This year is his first time as Screening Supervisor for the entire screening operation, which means he is the key point of contact.

Last year in Madagascar he was coordinator for the field screenings but this is a significant step up in responsibility. He has risen quickly from assistant screening coordinator during his first full field service in Guinea 2012.

The screening model this year in Benin is also new, three weeks of screenings instead of a single en-masse screening day. Nate is passionate and dedicated, he takes his role very seriously. We see him wrestle with big decisions and their consequences.

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 orthopedic 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.

Frank has performed about 650 procedures during his tenure; the impact goes beyond the individuals and touches many. Many of the people he’s helped have been rejected by their communities and families, so providing compassion and corrective surgeries changes the person’s self-image and provides inspiration and hope for many.

He sees no sacrifices in his volunteer work, ‘you leave the day-to-day worries and anxieties of our fast-moving society behind and focus on the person in front of you. Your reference is ‘how can I help you?’ and not ‘what is in it for me?’ It goes back to the rewards of giving’.

 

What stands out most for Dr Frank are the people with deformities. ‘Most impressive is the dignity that they possess. You discover that when you meet them eye-to-eye and with a touch’.

The most challenging thing for Dr Frank is screening patients for surgery, as he has to decide who he can help with the limited resources and time.

“I cannot make a big difference in the world, but I can make a world of difference in a few people’s lives.” – Dr. Haydon

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 M/V 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 BEHIND THE SCENES KIWI

Jonathan donated blood for Jonas’ operation, and was able to meet him afterwards – something unheard of in NZ, and a deeply emotional moment for Jonathan. If you caught Epsiode 1 you would have seen Jonny in the blood donor clinic onboard, that time for Julien (the patient with the large facial tumour).

Jonothan and his wife Steph are passionate about utilising their professions to care for others. Volunteering her nursing skills on a hospital ship was a natural choice for Steph, while Jonny’s training as an information services specialist proved to be less obvious – but in high demand.

The Mt Eden couple joined 450 international volunteers for three months aboard the Africa Mercy, in Benin, West Africa. “I learned a lot about how technology can greatly improve healthcare globally while working for Orion Health,” explains Jonny.

He describes his role on the Mercy Ship as “An IT support guy for a lot of different business scenarios; a ship, a hospital, a bank, a TV service, an internet café, and the list goes on.  Each department has its own set of software and different setups of workstations.”

In addition to keeping vital hospital and maritime technology online, Jonny was involved in the roll-out of an IT initiative to bring healing to thousands of people in the most remote and destitute areas of Africa’s west coast.

Many patients are too far away or too poor to make the trek to the hospital ship in a port city. To effectively reach these isolated people, a project utilising modified data-collecting app was initiated.  Jonny explains, “I was involved in the roll out, and installed the app in devices; testing that the app forms worked before handing it off to the ship’s Medical Capacity Building teams.”

The hospital ship’s mobile team is travelling throughout remote regions of Benin, using the app to send key medical information back to the screening team on board who later travel to access all those pre-registered. The new app is helping identify those most in need, in regions farthest from the coast.  “It has been wonderful to be part of this improvement, even though it was a small part to play,” explains Jonny.

“The ship is a unique community,” reflects Jonny. “Every job on the ship has an important purpose. It is an amazing example of working together to make the world a better place.”

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