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Somaya before her cleft lip and palate surgery
Somaya before her cleft lip and palate surgery
Somaya after her free surgery
Somaya after her free surgery

Neny’s life seemed to fall apart at every turn. When her daughter Somaya was born, Neny was deeply shocked to see her tiny baby’s mouth marred by a cleft lip and palate. She had never seen anything like it before. Somaya’s father was outraged. “This is not my baby! No one in my family has this,” he ranted, “It is not mine!” He abandoned them both and moved to another village.

When the tearful Neny came home from the hospital, neighbours told her to get rid of the baby. “Give her away to an orphanage. Send her away!” they said over and over. But Neny would not listen. “Somaya is a gift from God,” she replied.

Neny continued to pray for her baby. She remembers the day a few months later when she saw a program on TV about Mercy Ships. Surgeons were fixing people with the same problem as Somaya – with no charge to the patients. With no money to pay for a surgery, this was exactly what Neny needed to hear. It was announced screening for patients would take place soon in a town nearby. “This is an answer from God,” she thought.

Early on the screening day morning, Neny took Somaya to be accessed. This was the first time she had seen another person with a cleft lip. She was encouraged they were no longer alone. When Neny was given Somaya’s appointment card to be treated on the Mercy Ship, she was overjoyed.

Again Neny’s joy turned to despair. Two days before her appointment there was a fire in her house. No one was hurt, but everything Neny owned was lost. She explains. “Of course I was sad that our home got burned, but I was thinking more about the appointment card because it was about the future of my baby. Her lips should have been fixed, but the appointment card got burned.” This additional tragedy weighed heavily on her shoulders, and Neny felt like abandoning all hope.

Somaya was beginning to talk, but her malformed palate made forming words very difficult, and made eating and drinking a challenge. “She had a problem even drinking water, the same for eating. It was going down the wrong way. She was often sick. She was always coughing,” her mother recalls.

Neny’s hopes soared when a radio broadcast confirmed Mercy Ships was returning to Madagascar. Receiving a second card was easier than she imagined. Two-year- old Somaya was once again scheduled for surgery.

In the hospital ship’s ward, the Malagasy mothers of the cleft lip babies were a comfort and support to each other. “We had a good relationship because all those kids had the same problem,” Neny reflects. “We are asking each other, ‘How is your baby doing? And how about yours?’ ” There were no more harsh words, only words of mercy and hope. Finally someone understood.

“Now she is healthy!” declared the relieved Neny after Somaya’s cleft and lip restoration. “Now she can eat and drink normally. Before the surgery she was just able to say Mumma. Now it’s starting to be clear when she wants something, like water. She says, ‘Water Mamma!’ ”

Somaya’s new-found abilities are healing for Neny’s bruised heart too.

Neny was full of anticipation as they prepared to their return to their village. She could not wait to show her neighbours Somaya’s sweet new smile. “They will be amazed to see her back with these lips,” she says with a grin.

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Mercy Ships advance team welcomes Africa Mercy to Benin
Mercy Ships advance team welcomes Africa Mercy to Benin

Emotions ran high as the Africa Mercy arrived into the port of Cotonou this week, beginning 10 months of healthcare service to the nation of Benin.

Mercy Ships crew member Emmanuel Essah, a native of Benin and a volunteer Biomedical Technician on the Africa Mercy, proudly handed his nation’s flag to First Lady Madame Claudine Gbenagnon Talon during the welcome ceremony.

Addressing the crowd of government officials, Mercy Ships volunteers, and NGOs, the first lady expresses her passion for Benin’s poor: “Behind all statistics, there is a story, a life, a person who needs a new hope, a treatment or a cure,” she says. First Lady Talon has worked tirelessly to help Mercy Ships come to Benin, believing that the ship is a chance to bring the hope she speaks of to thousands of her people. We are deeply grateful for her partnership, and echo the first lady in her wishes that “This enriching collaboration of Benin with Mercy Ships will continue to grow year after year.”

This is the fifth time Mercy Ships has served people in need in this beautiful West African nation.

Benin arrival. Crewmember with Benin's 1st Lady
Benin arrival. Crewmember with Benin’s 1st Lady

Beininoise dance a vibrant welcome
Beininoise dance a vibrant welcome

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Mercy Ships patients are not the only ones who experience transformed lives. Crew members create treasured memories of heart-lifting and heart-breaking moments. Ward Nurse Heather Morehouse shares a special story:

Edited by Nancy Predaina & Eunice Hiew

(Read the full story in her blog post)

“To The Terror Of A 5-Year-Old In Bed D9 … You Have Changed My Life.

MGB150219_MIOTY_PAT14013_WAREHOUSE_KK0001When you first arrived on the ward, I saw your face … how your lip was pulled up and made your face look like you had a permanent scowl … how your left eye was missing, and your face was distorted … how you played, but were very aggressive, as if you’d spent your whole life fighting …

I found out that, when you were a week old, your mother left you at home with your older siblings so she could go to work to support you. When she came home, she found that you had been attacked by some animal!

It left a hole in your face that got infected, probably with a flesh-destroying bacteria called noma. It ate away your nose and ruined your eye. A local doctor sewed your eye shut and advised your mom to pour hot water on your eye every day for the next five years. Your mom didn’t know what else to do.

You came to us needing a new nose … but you are leaving with a new heart.

After your first surgery, I was your nurse. I think you hated me or feared me so much that you hated me. You left fingernail marks in my arm as you screamed while I did your breathing treatments – you were so afraid that you didn’t realize the treatments were actually painless.

I will never forget how strong you were as you fought. We had to restrain you while you screamed, “Marare, marare!” (“Pain, pain!”) over and over again throughout every treatment … every four hours … for countless shifts over five weeks.

MGB150331_DECK_7_PAT14013_MIOTY_CW0002I remember how your mom wept when Dr. Gary’s wife, Susan, looked into her eyes, saying, “You are a good mom … you are brave.” Your mom looked as if she’d never heard those words in her entire life. She’d spent five years caring for you, keeping you home so both of you wouldn’t have to endure disgusted looks and comments.

She wanted to protect you but had no support. Her eyes were so tired and defeated. She is the most patient, loving mother I have ever met. I remember my somewhat futile attempts to make you smile. Your whole head was bandaged, and you could barely see out of your one good eye. I read to you, placing your hands on the pictures.

You’d stare at the book, unimpressed, and pull your hands away. My heart hurt for you. I brought you crayons. You grabbed the box and dumped them all into your lap as if you were afraid that someone would steal them.

I was feeling defeated as the weeks were going by, and you were still as angry as ever. We nurses would pray over you frequently – for peace over your little mind … that you would come to trust us … that, through our love, the little girl inside would re-emerge.

Your mind was so tormented. You wouldn’t venture more than an arm’s length away from your mom. After treatments, you would throw yourself under your bed, sometimes for hours. You would swing your fist at me whenever I tried to say hello. You refused all medicine. You would spit it in my face, so I hid it in your food … which worked for about two days until you found out and refused to eat.

For your first dressing change, the doctor ordered an oral sedative. We brainstormed about how on earth we were going to get you to take the medicine. I asked you what your favorite food was, but you wouldn’t say.

I asked if you liked chocolate and you nodded. So I mixed the sedatives into Nutella and served it with a spoon and a smile. You took a small bite, and I rejoiced! But then you spat it out. You couldn’t be tricked. The only way was to give you an injection.

I prayed that the peace I saw while you slept would become the peace you’d have while you were awake … that whatever was tormenting you would be gone. But then you’d wake up and return to your angry self.

MGB150321_DECK_7_PAT14013_MIOTY_CW0003Then this week, something about you changed.

You still hate your treatments, and we don’t give you any medications by mouth because you refuse them, but you’re smiling now. A few days ago someone caught you singing, and another nurse taught you how to wink.

Today, more than five weeks from when you first walked through our door, I couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes as I watched you ride around the ward on your little scooter. As I felt you sneak up behind me, poke my side and then dart around the corner while you waited me for me to come chase you.

As I winked at you in your bed, and you winked back. Today I saw your heart heal a little. A heart that has spent its whole life fighting and not allowing anyone in … because no one had ever wanted in.

I cried because you are healing. Because this journey has been so difficult, remembering frustration when you’d thrashed around as I held you, quietly saying, “It’s okay,” but you never heard me through your screams. Because, as often as I wanted to request to not be your nurse, I didn’t – because I knew the Lord would be faithful in healing your body and mind and that He had the power to return your joy.

You are becoming a little girl again. Ever so slowly you are letting us love you. The torment that you’ve endured for the past five years is lifting. My heart has been broken for you. I often ask the Lord to break my heart for His people … and you are evidence that He has. I am honored to bear the burden of this broken heart, because it is worth it to love you.

You, Dear One, are why I am here.”

 

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Captain Tim Tretheway maritime professional magazineTo many around the world, Tim Tretheway will forever be remembered as their beloved ‘Captain Tim.’

As Maritime Professional says, “Captain Tim Tretheway’s selfless journey at sea spanned almost 30 years and helped to change literally hundreds of thousands of lives – for the better – in the process.”

Read their informative and inspirational article on Captain Tim, “Mercy Ships: A Life at Sea for All the Right Reasons,” here, and check out their website here.

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Adrienne shark diving in Durban with some fellow AFM crew members! Photo courtesy of Jesse Spooner
Adrienne shark diving in Durban with some fellow AFM crew members! Photo courtesy of Jesse Spooner.

Housekeepers are essential to the running of our hospital ship. As Wairoa resident Adrienne Andresen told the Wairoa Star, “Without it being clean, it can’t do the work it needs to do.” Every one of our hundreds of crew members would completely agree.

Having already volunteered twice as a housekeeper, first in the Republic of Congo and then in Madagascar, Wairoa Star reports, “She is ‘definitely’ considering making the tour a third time. ‘It gets to be quite a close community.’ ‘You get addicted to it, I think it’s because it’s an entirely different way of life and so worth it.’”

Read Wairoa Star’s great article about her experiences here, and check out their website here.

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Photo Credit: Michelle Murrey; 3178_MSNW_LARRY_ROBBINS_MM; Larry ROBBINS, NZL, Second Officier, Navigator; Larry ROBBINS charts the course of the Africa Mercy along the coast of Africa; Larry helped navigate the Africa Mercy from Tenerife to Congo-Brazzaville for the 2013-2014 Field Service, and uniquely had the task of navigating the ship through the intersection of the Prime Meridian and the Equator

The hospital of the Africa Mercy is situated inside a ship. Without the hard work and skill of our dedicated seamen, our ship (and thus the hospital) would sink, double meaning intended. They are a crucial reason we are able to bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor.

Retired Royal New Zealand Navy commander and current acting director of Mercy Ships NZ, Larry Robbins, returned earlier this year from two months as deck officer aboard the Africa Mercy.

Prestigious NZ national current affairs magazine North & South featured his experience in this article by Janice Gillgren.

Photo Credit: Michelle Murrey

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Photo Credit Ruben Plomp
Sue Clynes (R) with pre-op patient                                   Photo Credit Ruben Plomp

Have you ever wondered what a Mercy Ships nurse (such as kiwi OR nurse/maxillofacial team leader Sue Clynes) does at 5.45 a.m (“My alarm chirps and I quickly turn it off before it disturbs my husband John … After breakfast I head back to my cabin, take my antimalarial tablet, clean my teeth, put my hat on and leave for work, which takes me about 30 seconds as I just have to walk down one staircase”),10 p.m. (“Should be sleep time but I can’t stop thinking about storing those sutures”) and a whole bunch of times in between?

New Zealand’s Nursing Review have, and they have published a fantastic, insightful article about what a day for Sue Clynes is like, from which the above quotes were extracted – ‘A Day in the Life of a Mercy Ship Nurse.’

Read her story here.

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