Cameroon

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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Cameroon

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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Cameroon

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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Cameroon

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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Cameroon

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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Cameroon

Drums beating and hundreds singing, waving and dancing on the dock welcomed the Africa Mercy into port in Cameroon for the very first time, on Thursday (NZ time). Off-duty crew members excitedly lined the rails to finally catch a glimpse of the nation they had been sailing towards for two weeks, and praying for much longer.

Free essential surgery and health care services are offered to the Republic of Cameroon’s people in an inaugural visit from the largest civilian hospital ship in the world. Faith-inspired based charity Mercy Ships has deployed the Africa Mercy to serve Cameroon’s poor for 10 months. The vessel docked in the port city of Douala for the first time today.

During this field service, Mercy Ships intends to provide more than 3,000 life-changing surgeries for adult and child patients onboard, to treat over 8,000 at a land-based dental clinic, and provide holistic healthcare training to Cameroonian healthcare professionals.

The Africa Mercy and its crew of more than 400 volunteer professionals from New Zealand and more than 40 other countries, will provide surgical services and healthcare training to support the local healthcare system, in collaboration with the Government of Cameroon.

All surgeries are offered free of charge to the patients.

The surgeries provided will include removal of tumours, repair of cleft lips and cleft palates, plastic surgery to release burn contractures, hernia repair, extracting cataracts, correcting orthopaedic deformities in children (windswept legs, knocked knees, and other anomalies), repair of obstetric fistulas and provision of dental care. The Africa Mercy is a surgical hospital ship and cannot treat chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, sickle cell anaemia, ulcers, HIV/AIDS, cardiac issues, etc.

Through a joint effort between Mercy Ships and the Ministry of Health, the selection of patients for the general, orthopaedic, plastic and maxillofacial programs took place in May. These patients will be transported to the ship according to the surgical schedule, thanks to the diligent work of the Ministry of Transport.

Training opportunities include individual mentoring for Cameroonian surgeons, nurses and anaesthetists, who will soon be selected. Courses will also be offered in local hospitals in areas such as Essential Surgical Skills, Primary Trauma Care, Paediatric/Obstetric Anaesthesia, and sterilisation of medical equipment, among others.

In addition, the Mercy Ships agricultural team will train participants from local NGOs for a period of 22 weeks in nutritional and ecological sustainability.

Already more than 20 Kiwi volunteers – from nurses and anaesthetists to IT specialists and Mariners, are signed up to use their skills to serve Cameroon’s poor during the field service, which concludes in June 2018.

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