Africa Mercy

: A Volunteer Story

Local Eye doctor Gestrude receiving yag laser training by Dr Glenn Strauss

Imagine a child whose life has been spent in shadows and darkness because of a simple cataract. For most people in developed nations, a quick trip to the eye specialist would resolve this issue, but for those who have little to no access to quality healthcare, their world continues to dim.

For over 40 years, Mercy Ships has been dedicated to providing hope and healing to those in need. Still, our mission would be impossible without the dedicated volunteers who join us on our hospital ship to provide surgical and medical care. Today, we want to honor one such volunteer — Dr Glenn Strauss.

Dr Strauss joined the Mercy Ships volunteer family back in 1997 as an ophthalmologist with the Caribbean Mercy. Over the years, he and his wife Kim continued to support and volunteer their skills for short-term missions, helping many find healing where there once was none.

After years of serving, Dr Strauss and his wife decided to close their practice at home and commit their lives to serve with Mercy Ships full time.

“We felt like we were in a position where we had a lot of years that we could really be offering our best,” Dr Strauss said. “Sort of the ‘first fruits’ idea, where we want to offer our best to the Lord. So we joined full time.”

Dr Strauss and his wife became involved full time in 2005, where they developed Mercy Vision — a training program incorporating spiritual and medical skills training for surgeons and paramedical workers of Central America and sub-Saharan Africa.

While serving with Mercy Ships, Dr Strauss had the opportunity to perform the very first surgery onboard our current ship, the Africa Mercy, but he never forgot his first passion — teaching others. For years, Dr Strauss had the opportunity to train professionals in countries where medical training was nearly impossible to find. Over time, those students began to teach others, resulting in even more healing.

“I had ‘grandchildren’, essentially since the surgeons that I had trained, were now training surgeons in Africa,” Dr Strauss said. “They were being very effective. And so there was a desire to see if we could maybe scale that or incorporate that into some of the other mentoring work that was being done with Mercy Ships.”

Eventually, his passion for educating and training took him away from the surgical table and into the classroom. Dr Strauss’s last surgery was the final one for the 2019/2020 field service, which was cut short due to COVID-19. Now, Dr Strauss has the opportunity as the Programs Medical Capacity Building Director to share his experience in theatre with even more medical professionals.

“What is so interesting to me is that I’ve been part of the story of the Africa Mercy for all these years, and have been able to build a training program in ophthalmology that I believe has been effective both spiritually and professionally with the surgeons that I’ve been working with,” he shared. “Now I have the opportunity to expand that into other areas within Mercy Ships with the new training programs we are developing for our future projects. I think it’s exciting to see that there’s a new area we’re able to tap into. To go far beyond what we’ve been able to do so far.”

We are so thankful for those like Dr Strauss, whose dedication to the mission of hope and healing will see generations changed.

There are so many ways to support the missions close to your heart this #WorldHumanitarianDay — whether through volunteer work, support, or advocacy, you can change your world by taking action. Join us in our mission of bringing hope and healing to those in need by visiting www.mercyships.org.nz/volunteer

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Africa Mercy

If you are looking for a change and a chance to pay it forward, working for a few months as a volunteer electrician, engineer or technician on the world’s largest civilian hospital ship in Africa could be just what you need, says Sharon Walls from Mercy Ships.

Mercy Ships is now recruiting for places like Senegal and Liberia where the faith-based charity will be delivering free, world-class healthcare services to needy people in the developing world.

Walls says volunteering on the Mercy Ship is an immensely rewarding experience building both career and character.

“We are looking for skilled, self-sufficient people who can adapt to the challenges of keeping our electrical systems working to support our medical teams in the life-saving operations they perform.”

Electronics technician, Filips Jansons from Allandale near Christchurch, completed a six-month tour recently where he volunteered on Africa Mercy in the electrical engineering department, while the hospital ship was docked in Guinea, West Africa.

He says volunteering on the ship has benefited him greatly and he liked living and working in the on-board community made up of people from different cultures and beliefs.

“We were are able to work alongside each other. I think that’s something you don’t get anywhere else, with such a broad spectrum of age and experience.”

Jansons says he had the opportunity to involve himself in many areas of the ship and work on a variety of systems, machines and equipment, ranging from auto fire detection systems, fuel purifiers, cranes, main distribution switchboards, medical air monitoring systems, many marine electronics, and much more.

“My days on the ship were never the same. As a technician back home, I would need to work for several different industries to gain that sort of experience.”

Filips Jansons, Electronics Technician, at work onboard the Mercy Ship

Over its 40 years of operation, Mercy Ships has performed more than 100,000 free, life-changing or life-saving surgical procedures such as cleft lip and palate repairs, cataract removal, orthopaedic procedures, facial reconstruction and obstetric fistula repairs. Services and materials valued at more than $2.33 billion have directly benefitted more than 2.71 million people in 70 nations.

Sharon Walls says each year, around 1,000 volunteers from up to 40 nations volunteer with Mercy Ships and are supported by 16 offices around the world, including Auckland.

Volunteers for Africa Mercy are volunteers in every sense of the word, raising funds or paying their own way to the African port, and $1000 per month for room and board on the ship. Walls says with everyone contributing to their own way of getting there, every cent donated helps provide essential surgical services for the poor.

Africa Mercy is a 16,000 tonne vessel about the size of a Cook Strait ferry. It has five operating theatres on board and five wards, along with consulting and treatment spaces. The ship generates all its own power and diagnostic equipment connects to experts around the world via satellite.

Walls says everyone works a 45-hour week with rostered time off. Mercy Ships has an immediate vacancy for electrical crew, and vacancies for two or three more in 2020.

From Electrolink magazine, reposted with permission

More about electrical and electronics roles on board Mercy Ships here 

Africa Mercy in the Port of Conakry, with members of Deck & Engineering on the bow.

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Marthe takes a bow for the nurses after recovering from her life-transforming surgery

 

Hannah Peters’ huge heart took her to Benin, Madagascar and Cameroon caring for people with devastating conditions. She shares the remarkable transformation that occurs on the inside and outside of her patients, and Marthe in particular. Read Hannah’s story in That’s Life magazine here

 

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Africa Mercy

Victoria was on her own in the world

Victoria never lost hope. Not after her parents died when she was a girl, not after she was forced to start begging in the streets, and not even when she began developing a massive facial tumour when she was only 18 years old.

Now, the resilient 23-year-old sat on the deck of the Africa Mercy, one hand holding a blue cloth to her bandaged face. Above the white bandages, her eyes sparkled when they caught the sunlight. It was difficult for her to speak after her tumour removal surgery, but warmth radiated from her smile. Her story was begging to spill out.

Her journey, like that of many of the patients who come to the ship, was marked by courage. It was not a short one … nor was it easy. Her travels took her from the far north, beyond Cameroon’s borders, on an arduous three-day journey to the port city where the Africa Mercy is docked.

Orphaned from an early age, the brave young woman made the trip alone. She was accustomed to facing obstacles. She had spent her adolescence fending for herself – living on the streets and sometimes forced to beg for money. Then the tumour appeared, slowly expanding over her face, affecting her in ways that stretched beyond the physical. It was difficult to eat or speak clearly. People avoided looking at her, and it became more challenging to find work to earn a living.

Victoria could have easily given in to the bitterness of a hardened heart. But, even in these difficult circumstances, her love for Jesus remained. It shone brilliantly in her eyes and was evident in her gentle spirit.

After hearing about Mercy Ships, Victoria bravely left the familiar behind for a chance at a brighter future — one without the weight of the tumour that had burdened her for five years.

“Victoria was all joy the night she came to the ship. The surgery took some of her energy and spark. Yet, through moments on the ward and dances down the hall, Victoria recovered

Victoria’s eyes tell the story of her healing

well both in heart and health,” said Kayla Bissonette, a volunteer ward nurse. “What was once work and exercises changed to laughs and friendships during her stay … the smile that reaches her eyes is how I’ll remember her!”

Victoria’s time on the ship gave her plenty of opportunities to exercise her engaging smile. While recovering from surgery, she celebrated her 24th birthday on the Africa Mercy, surrounded by fellow patients and caring crew members.

Before long, Victoria’s bandages were removed, and she saw herself tumour-free for the first time in years! “Thank you for making me beautiful,” she said to a nurse.

“You’ve always been beautiful,” the nurse replied.

Victoria’s first surgery left her free to eat, speak, and move with much more ease than before, but her journey to a full recovery was not yet complete. A routine second surgery awaited her to tighten the stretched skin on her chin.

But as she sat on the deck in the warm sunshine, Victoria’s journey to healing had already begun. By bravely telling her story, Victoria shared the hope she received, and her powerful transformation is evident in her beautiful smile and sparkling eyes.

‘Thanks for making me beautiful,’ Victoria told a nurse after the surgery to remove her tumour. ‘You’ve always been beautiful,’ the nurse replied.

Story by Rose Talbot

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Helen volunteer as an anaesthetic assistant on board the Mercy Ship

A hospital ship in West Africa is a world away from the family farm at Rua Roa under the Ruahine Rangers. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, taking Helen Trainor on the journey of a lifetime – eventually to volunteer her surgical skills aboard the Mercy Ship in Cameroon

Ms Trainor developed a deep love for animals as she grew up on the farm, and after high school, she trained as a veterinary nurse and developed a keen interest in anaesthesia while working in animal surgery. This, in turn, inspired her to retrain as an anaesthesia technician. ‘I moved from veterinary nursing to anaesthetising people because it was always such a fascinatingly part of the vet nursing job, but anaesthetics is quite limited with animals. So I moved to humans!’ Helen worked in the cardiothoracic and ear, nose and throat specialities in Auckland before heading to the U.K. to work in a large London hospital where she heard about the world’s largest civilian hospital ship operation, by the not-for-profit Mercy Ships, providing essential surgery for some of Africa’s poorest people.

Read Helen’s story in The Manuwatu Standard here

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We usually understand a ship to be a means of transporting people or cargo, a luxury cruise liner or a military vessel. Rarely do we associate a ship with a hospital. In this article, the authors explore the creation and operation of a unique ship, the Africa mercy (formerly a Danish ferry), which operates as a floating hospital providing healthcare to developing African nations.

Read the recent article in FTD Supply Chain Management magazine here FTD_febmar18

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Plymouth-born pharmacist Gray Barnett has gone to sea… His role comprises a mix of community and hospital pharmacist.

Pharmacy Today magazine – February 2018 
by Nerine Zoio

Barnett experiences special moments with patients despite not speaking their language

New Plymouth-born pharmacist Gray Barnett has gone to sea.

For 10 weeks during December 2017 and January, he volunteered with Mercy Ships New Zealand, providing medical and surgical care to people in desperate circumstances on Africa’s west coast.

The Christian-oriented Mercy Ships are essentially floating hospitals operating all over the waterways and coastlines of developing nations.

Mr Barnett’s ship, the Africa Mercy, docked in August, in Cameroon, where it is spending eight months treating patients from all over the country.

On board, his role comprises a mix of community pharmacist and hospital pharmacist.

“I guess what personally motivates me to volunteer is to give freely of my expertise as a pharmacist, and to provide a level of care to patients that could be expected in New Zealand or Canada,” he says.

“I think that’s important, and it’s very satisfying to help in this way.”

The ship screens patients to determine whether surgery and a successful outcome are feasible before taking them on.

Unlike a standard hospital, on Mercy ships specialist surgeons from all over the world volunteer to undertake a limited scope of surgeries.

The ship’s 80 beds are often filled by patients for much longer than the night or two expected in a New Zealand hospital, due to lack of medical infrastructure to manage complications once off the ship.

Meanwhile, a “hope centre”, akin to a Ronald McDonald House, provides an area for patients and their families as further recovery takes place.

Most patients seen on board are medically stable, but still require wound care, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

More than 85,000 free surgeries have been provided in 40 years.

Not speaking French does not hinder Mr Barnett from building relationships with patients.

“I experience many special moments, like when I receive a gentle smile or shake hands with a patient, which means a lot both to patient and practitioner,” he says.

His typical day consists of attending to ward rounds, monitoring medicine quality, ensuring optimal medication usage outcomes, and acting as a community pharmacist for the crew.

Pharmacists on the ship act as “safety nets” because the senior doctors lack their teams of younger registrars and house officers back home.

“Pharmacists have a bit of a role to play, catching a few more issues normally managed by junior doctors,” Mr Barnett says.

Along with three other pharmacists, he often finds himself compounding creams, ointments and suspensions, although this is made difficult by the lack of a sterile unit.

Challenges include the small size of the pharmacy, the limited formulary and supplying the ward’s medicine cabinet, including fluid supply.

‘What personally motivates me to volunteer is to give freely of my expertise as a pharmacist and t provide a level of care to patients that could be expected in New Zealand or Canada. I think that’s important, and it’s very satisfying to help in this way.’

“Half of the pharmacy, which is on the same level as the hospital, is run out of a container, with stores being held at another part of the ship,” Mr Barnett says.

“This means we’re constantly tripping over ourselves to run a pharmacy out of a very small dispensary and container, as well as the challenge of needing to leave the hospital area to get to the supply area to get medication.”

The team’s senior pharmacist manages logistics. It can take up to three months for a medication order to come through from the US, the Netherlands, or the UK.

“The ship can buy medicine locally, but that constitutes a challenge as it is next to Nigeria, the counterfeit capital of the world,” Mr Barnett says.

“Recently, we ran out of intravenous fluids, which now requires us to source from a local manufacturer.”

The surgeons on the ship provide a wide range of general surgeries, including dental, eye, maxillofacial, plastic reconstructive, orthopaedic, and women’s health.

Many of these surgeries treat conditions not normally seen in New Zealand, such as elephantiasis caused by a parasitic worm, or severe clubfoot.

The obstetrics surgery mainly concerns fistula correction after childbirth. This occurs when an infant becomes stuck, placing pressure on the tissue around the uterus, anus and bladder. This results in necrosis of the tissue, loss of the child and inability to carry children until the condition is treated.

“It’s also associated with social stigma and social isolation, as the ability to bear children is culturally important in West Africa, and because of involuntary bowel movements or urinary incontinence,” Mr Barnett says.

There are many accidents around open flames in Cameroon and other West African countries and, because some of the injured don’t get high-quality care, burn contractures occur, he says. Often people are disfigured and lose range of movement in their limbs.

Barnett dispenses a patient’s prescription to NZ nurse Ellen Parker

The Mercy Ships plastic surgery team does its best to correct the contractures, to restore functionality and for cosmetic purposes.

“Because some of the burns are so severe, it’s often hard to get the perfect cosmetic look. But at least more dignity is brought back into patients’ lives, and function is brought back to their extremities.”

Paediatric neurosurgery is especially conducted on patients with hydrocephalus to enable cerebrospinal fluid to drain out of the brain, rather than accumulate.

“Hydrocephalus causes certain parts of infants’ faces to bulge because the skull hasn’t fused, pushing the brain out. Many other things can go wrong, such as delayed cognitive development, sensory issues, epilepsy and, if severe enough, death can occur,” says Mr Barnett.

“The fortunate thing is that, if we can catch it in time, it won’t have an impact on their survivability going forward in life.”

Goitre is another common ailment. “We see goitre that is so severe that it can end up killing the patient by collapsing their airway.”

Whatever the condition, the ship’s interventions bring immediate help, Mr Barnett says.

“I reflect on what a difference we’re making; that patients can leave our ship and go on with their lives with more function and dignity.”

Mr Barnett grew up in New Plymouth and studied at the University of Otago.

Recently, he moved to Canada, where he is in the process of becoming licensed as a pharmacist.

 

SHIPS OF HOPE:  In the past 40 years, Mercy Ships New Zealand has conducted 85,000 free surgeries and trained 40,000 healthcare professionals.

In the past year, it has performed about 3000 cataract surgeries.

In addition to surgery, Mercy Ships is focused on building health expertise,infrastructure and sanitation within a country.

“Teaching the local doctors and nurses to provide care and building healthcare capacity in the local community are focal areas, so that when the ships disembark, services can still be provided,” New Zealand pharmacist and Mercy Ships volunteer Gray Barnett says.

“This involves the donation of equipment, and connecting hospitals with other organisations that can donate equipment to conduct surgeries.”

Mr Barnett says pharmacy technicians are required, and any volunteers would be welcomed.

 

© The Health Media Ltd

 

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NZ Woman’s Weekly story of  Auckland nurse Steph Clark’s volunteer work on the hospital ship Africa Mercy, providing free hospital care to developing countries. She and her husband Jonathan will return to serve with Mercy Ships later this year in Guinea, West Africa.  Read the article here

      

Steph specialises in the care of children

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How a young software developer and paediatric nurse duo found a place to volunteer together, and the remarkableand life-saving events that they became part of. Read Us Two magazine here

Jonny and Stephanie Clark volunteered for three months in Benin, West Africa

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LISTEN ONLINE to RNZ’s Nine to Noon interviews nurse Deb Adesanya about the special bond speaking the local dialect gave when interfacing with her patients, and other remarkable aspects of her five-month voluntary service on the Mercy Ship.

Listen online 

 

 

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