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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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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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Ward Nurse Deb Adesanya holds a baby after his surgery

The backstory: Caring for children recovering from major surgery was Deborah Adesanya’s assignment olunteering in the wards aboard the 16,000 tonne hospital ship, Africa Mercy. Some of her most poignant moments were with babies receiving surgery to correct birth defects like cleft lip and palate.  Most of her long-stay paediatric patients were recovering from surgery to straighten their badly bowed legs or plastic surgery for cooking-fire burns. Both operations restore limb movement that will give these children a fresh chance at a decent future.

One of the 26-year-old volunteer’s most memorable patients was a boy named Saidou.

Saidou was three years old when, while working in the fields with his father, a strong wind blew on their camp-fire and it burned out of control. He was badly burned causing severe damage to his arms, chest and neck.

In a developed nation Saidou would have been rushed to an intensive care unit but, like most people in Benin, his family had no access to either medical care or pain relief.  Against all odds and despite the lack of treatment, he stubbornly clung to life. The agonising burns gradually healed, and scarring contracted each joint it crossed.  He grew up with restricted upper body movement and for the following eight years Saidou’s jaw was pulled so tight, he could make only garbled sounds. The little boy was trapped in an immobilised body, unable to speak through the remaining tiny O-shaped mouth. Yet despite the trauma that constricted every part of his life, Saidou was indomitable. He defied pity – endlessly fascinated with the world around him and often creating his own world of make-believe. Somehow this remarkable child was both even-keeled and happy despite all.

After years of saving the family eventually scraped together enough money for treatment which failed. They were demoralised as Saidou’s condition worsened.

When they heard the news that Mercy Ships was coming to Benin to provide surgery and rehabilitation free of charge, Saidou and his parents gained new hope.

After assessment by the one of the ship’s surgeons, Saidou was admitted for complex burns contracture release and plastic reconstructive surgery. He was placed in Deborah’s ward for his long post-operative recovery.

Deb did far more than simply tend Saidou’s wounds to help him heal

The eleven-year-old’s upper body was swathed in casts and bandaged to restrict any upper body movement while his skin grafts healed. ‘I took care of him over a series of shifts,’ explains Deborah. ‘On the afternoon of my third shift looking after him, I felt like we had built a great rapport. He recognised me and we had developed little ways of communicating. He was one of the bravest patients I have ever encountered. He enduredmany IV insertions blood tests, and movement which would have been incredibly painful due to his surgery, yet he hardly ever cried. Some of the treatment he received was painful, yet he was so brave.’

As Deborah and the nursing team cared for Saidou during his long weeks of recovery, they made sure to take time to play games with him. They encouraged him and prayed for him and, with the help of the ward translators, told him about all the new things he would be able to do when he finally went home.

 

After weeks of physiotherapy, Saidou is now able to move his arms and begin to regain lost movement. He can move his head and neck from side to side. But the most poignant achievement of all was when Saidou began to speak in complete sentences for the first time—ever.

 

His parents were deeply moved to simply hear his voice. Saidou was finally able to express things he had been thinking throughout those long, silent years of his childhood. He had a lot to catch up on. He was so excited to call his mother – 10-hours-travel away – and actually talk to her. His dad was consistently kind and gentle, staying within arm’s reach for the 134 days his son received care from Mercy Ships. He took enormous delight in declaring that his son was now a chatterbox!

 

Deborah was both impressed and challenged by the patients she met on the surgery ship.  ‘My favourite part of this whole experience was the people: I loved the patients, their families, the day crew, and the locals I met!’ she declared ‘Often the patients looked at me with confusion because, being from Nigeria I can understand Yoruba, which some of the people in Benin also speak. It was awesome being able to converse in Yoruba. It really deepened our connection and the level of trust they had in me. Being a nurse of African origins on the ship I found a lot of the patients were drawn to me. In a way I felt like they were proud of me. It was as if some of the parents looked at me thinking if I can do it, so can their child.’

Deb Adesanya’s 20 weeks with Mercy Ships changed her life

 

                                                         Read Deb’s story from Nigeria to New Zealand, to Benin and back again, in the Woman’s Day magazine in stores August 12
Click here to help make a difference today

 

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Interview by The Herald.

 

Steph and Jonathan hanging out with a tiny patient
Steph and Jonathan hanging out on the hospital ship deck with a tiny patient

 

Using their skills for good, IT specialist Jonathan and his wife, nurse Stephanie Clark embark on a journey to make a difference.Watch The Herald interview here

 

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

The 26-year-old signed on articles for a two-month tour-our-duty in Benin, West Africa, providing care for patients who receive free essential surgery that is inaccessible in their own nation. Jess worked primarily in the ship’s ICU, and one of the five wards where she cared for patients of all ages recovering after the removal of huge, benign yet life-threatening, tumours.

But what Jess says she didn’t expect during her volunteer service was a shift in her own perspective, “Mainly in being thankful for the ‘little things’.

“I visited 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.”

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

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The Press brings in the New Year by interviewing Jess Doney on her return from the Mercy Ships wards. Read Nursing on a ship in Africa

Jess Doney (NZL) Ward Nurse, Adult ICU

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Vivien and Manatiry developed a special bond
Vivien and Mananatiry developed a special bond

Starship Health paediatric nurse Vivien Welsh always knew she wanted to work with children. She entertained both teaching and nursing as career options. But time with a Christian missionary organisation based in Brisbane and travelling in India and other parts of Asia convinced her nursing was the right choice. “When I was travelling, I saw just how much need there was for health care.”

Her first paediatric placement as a student and her pre-registration placement on a neurology ward at Starship confirmed she had made the right career decision. She graduated from Auckland University of Technology in 2012 and began her nurse-entry-to-practice placement on the neurology ward where she had worked as a third-year student. Welch loves the work.

“I love working very closely with families. It is different to working with families of adult patients. When a child is in hospital, a family member is there all the time and every shift we discuss with that family member what we hope to achieve. It is a real partnership.”

She has stayed on the neurology ward – “there’s still so much to learn”. But her time there has been punctuated by two stints as a volunteer nurse with Africa Mercy, the world’s largest civilian floating hospital, which was in Madagascar. The Africa Mercy is run by the international non-government organisation Mercy Ships. The first time – from mid October 2014 to mid-January 2015 – she worked on the ship’s paediatric ward. She resigned from her job to do so, but on her return successfully applied for a position on her former ward. Welch knew she wanted to return to Africa Mercy. For her second assignment of 12 weeks with the hospital’s dedicated wound care team, which began in early January this year, the ward accommodated her unpaid leave.

She feels compelled to do this work. “I want to make a practical difference and Mercy Ships provides the structure and support to do that. I also feel a responsibility to do so. I’ve been born in this country but have done nothing to deserve that fate; I could just as easily have been born in a country with nothing. I feel I have a duty to give something back.”

Six-year old Manantiry's arm and hand were immobilised by scar tissue
Six-year old Manantiry’s arm and hand were immobilised by scar tissue

Time with the dedicated wound care team was her way of doing so this year. “Working on the ‘dressings team’ was very different to any nursing I’d ever done before. Previously, I’d worked on the wards where I had a patient load. In the ship’s dressing team we definitely worked as a team, which was great. Five of us rotated, with four nurses on duty each day. We operated in pairs, alternating between performing dressing changes and distracting kids, while getting the instruments and dressings ready for the other nurses.”

There was always music playing, and dancing withher bandaged patients to Taylor Swift’s latest hit was a regular occurrence.

“Despite the seriousness of the conditions being treated, we created a fun environment to work in. There was always music playing. We sang and danced around with our patients – or solo – to entertain them! We always ended the day with our faces covered in stickers from the kids.”

A six-year-old boy, Manantiry, will always remain in Welch’s memory. He had pulled a pot of boiling water onto himself when he was two. His family lived in a remote village, had very little money and poor access to health care. She first met him during his initial dressing change one week after surgery on board. (See box on facing page.)

“He had  severe burn contractures and surgery released his scarring and he received multiple skin grafts. Dressings had to be changed on four different sites: his hand, axilla, elbow and the large donor site on his thigh.

“I had the job of distracting Manantiry and holding him still, while his surgeon did the first dressing change. It is something I will never forget. Manantiry screamed and screamed for most of the hour that it took.  I spent the entire time wrapping him in a hug and holding his arm or hand still for the surgeon. Manantiry stared directly up at me with his huge brown eyes. I spoke to him gently, reassured him, and sang to him. Through it all, I think Manantiry ended up trusting me more. For weeks afterwards, I was the only one he would allow to perform his dressing change. We formed a really strong bond. It was amazing to watch some of the movement in his hand restored soon after surgery.”

The basics of dressing changes

As her 12-week assignment was coming to an end, Welch was working in the ship’s dockside clinic doing outpatients’ dressing changes. Manantiry’s mother came to the clinic and told her they were going home, as a family member had died. The journey back to their small village took five or six days of difficult travelling. “She said they would return in a month because it would take that long to travel there and back. We quickly taught Mama the basics of changing the dressing and looking after her son’s wound. Before he left, he had 90 degrees of movement at his axilla.”

Welch later heard that Manantiry had returned to the Hospital Outpatient Extension Centre about three weeks after they were scheduled to arrive. His wounds had all healed but he had lost some range of movement because he hadn’t been doing his exercises. The rehabilitation team continued to work with him to regain that lost movement.

While Welch saw “crazy surgical presentations I’d never see in New Zealand”, the actual nursing practice on Mercy Africa was more akin to caring for elective surgery patients. “The nursing is not as acute as my nursing here – you’re not run off your feet so you can get to know the patients and their families really well. We could spend time hanging out with the kids, singing, playing, forming real relationships and seeing how much of a difference we can make. I loved that about it  and I certainly got more than I gave.”

Returning to New Zealand and re-entering a high-acuity environment, with acutely unwell children, takes a little adjusting to. But what she finds more of a challenge is some people’s attitudes. “All our patients have really nice single rooms but some people can still find things to complain about. They don’t realise how good we’ve got it here. We have access to free health care. In Madagascar, every intravenous line, bag of fluids, dressing pack etc must be paid for before you get any treatment. If you don’t have money, you don’t get help.”

Welch wants to continue making a practical difference. “I think perhaps it’s time to move on from the neurology ward and get some different experiences, keep challenging myself to learn new things and get new skills I can take overseas. I want to keep finding ways of working overseas, to keep learning and to keep becoming a better nurse.”

Published by Kai Tiaki, Nursing New Zealand December 2016. Posted with permission.

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2.5 min VIDEO: Unable to walk far enough to get to school, this bright little girl and her family were heartbroken over what her future would be – until they heard about another girl whose legs were straightened for free by Mercy Ships. Fifalina’s tenacity and zest for life will brighten up your day in just 2.5 minutes!

Watch Fifalina's miracle happen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch Fifalina’s transformation

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