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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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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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Melanie tends to 4-year-old Mediatrice

These days, Pirongia-born nurse Melanie Allen begins each shift with a two-minute walk to work – down several flights of stairs and into the hospital deck of the world’s largest civilian hospital ship, Africa Mercy. In February Melanie joined the volunteer crew of the 16,000 tonne Mercy Ships vessel in Cameroon, West Africa. Her two-month tour-of-duty has already been both eye-opening and professionally challenging.

The 24-year-old is assigned to the ‘plastics’ ward caring, for both child and adult patients after they have received free reconstructive surgery for disabling burns.

‘The most common surgery I have seen so far among my paediatric patients is the release of burn contractures using skin grafts,’ explains Melanie. ‘These burns are often caused by spilling or falling into hot water or oil. The scar tissue that forms becomes tight and shortens, causing the limb to be stuck in a bent position, limiting their mobility and functionality. Other common problems I have seen so far are keloid scars where a prominent scar forms after injury from excessive tissue growth and lipomas which are benign tumours made up of fatty tissue.’

‘In general, the problems patients coming to Mercy Ships may face due to these conditions include a limited ability to work, or get an education, and some may even be ostracized from their communities.’

Armstrong had a large keloid tumour removed from his chin. Melanie is checking his pain level after surgery.

Cameroon can boast only 77 physicians for every million people, so even if patients could scrape together enough money to pay for treatment, timely care is simply not accessible. Similar statistics are echoed all over West Africa, which is why the not-for-profit has been operating hospital ships in the regions for decades.

‘For some people here, the Mercy Ship is their only hope for surgery,’ observes Melanie. ‘They to want regain their dignity, be acceptance back into community life and to have the ability to do things others take for granted.’

‘The Africa Mercy is unique because each year it sails to countries that most need help. It is like a little city with all sorts of people with various roles on board. People from all over the world come to volunteer their time and expertise. It is so well organised and I feel very supported.

‘Each morning the chaplaincy team come into the wards, and there is singing and dancing with African drums. During the evening patients pour out into the hallways where there is singing and dancing African-style. It can be very loud! It is an environment full of joy, love and thankfulness. Prayer is integrated into patient care. At the start of each shift we gather together and our team leader prays.

Serving with Mercy Ships has taken me back to the heart of nursing. There is less paperwork and more quality patient time. It has also challenged me to be more creative with the way I communicate with my patients across culture and language barriers. French is the main language spoken here in Cameroon but there are many other languages also. I try to learn key phrases that I can use, frequently use interpreters (our lovely local day crew), picture pain scales etc. I have also experienced how a smile or warm gesture can go a long way.

The Mercy Ship and her crew feature in the eight-part National Geographic series The Surgery Ship, on SKY Channel 072 beginning Saturday 7 April, at 6.30pm. For more information and behind the scenes stories, return to the homepage.

Around 40 New Zealanders volunteer with Mercy Ships every year for weeks, months and even years at a time working in medical, maritime and operational capacities.  To see the incredible results of the work of these hidden Kiwis heroes, watch The Surgery Ship.

Thanks to the Te Awamutu Courier for publishing Melanie’s story

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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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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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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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These are the stories of a few of the 35 Kiwis who served on board in Benin, some volunteering for a second, third or even a fifth tour-of-duty

Tony Diprose, Anaesthetist

 

The Hastings anaesthetist tells The Herald what struck him on board the Mercy Ship was the wide range of people vital to providing life-transforming surgery for Africa’s poor. ‘I’d never have thought to say to a plumber, ‘Mate, you could make a real difference in healthcare in West Africa!’ Some of the crew will never set foot in an operating theatre, but there’s a real need on the ship currently for a mechanic, plumbers, maritime crew; they need a carpenter. These people are as much part of our patients’ treatment as any of the theatre staff.’ Read more

 

 

 

 

Steph & Jonny Clark
Ward Nurse, IT Specialist

 

 

Watch The Herald interview with this young couple who used their skill mix to pay it forward, serving Benin’s poor for three months, or read the IT Brief story about what the world of a geek is like on board the world’s largest civilian hospital ship

 

 

 

 

 

Deb Adesanya, Nurse

 

 

Her intended five-week volunteer tour-of-duty on board the Mercy Ship soon was extended to 20 weeks, and her heart was forever changed by the individuals she met. Deb explains, ‘My favourite part of this whole experience was the people; I loved the patients, their families, the day crew, and the locals I met!’ Read her story this month in Womans’ Day magazine, on shelves August 13, 2017! 

 

 

 

 

Nathan Collis. Electrician

 

Nathan Collis, ElectricianCollis was deeply impacted on a very personal level by the larger work of Mercy Ships in their mission to provide essential surgical services to Africa’s poorest people. ‘Getting to watch a cleft lip operation take place was definitely one of the most impacting moments for me. I was born with a cleft lip. Because I was fortunate enough to be born in New Zealand I don’t really have any memory of this, as it was fixed as soon as possible. This teenager had not been given that opportunity. He had gone through his life up being made fun of, and struggling to eat. An operation which takes a little over an hour changes someone’s life so radically.’ Read his story in August’s Electrolink magazine 

 

 

 

Larry Robbins, Deck Officer

 

 

The retired Navy Commander explains to North and South Magazine why he volunteers regularly on board the Mercy Ship. Larry describes his duties that are essential to the function of the hospital ship, and how much he loves the comradery on board. “I have enjoyed my time in this 400-strong community from 34 different nations, and found it most satisfying both for the work and the sense of purpose.”

 

 

 

 

Ellen Parker, Paediatric Nurse

 

 

Ellen Parker shares, ‘My imagination was captured by the idea of volunteering on a hospital ship when I heard about the first Mercy Ship in 1983.The challenge to use my training to help people in poverty simply stuck in my mind, and just never went away. Half a lifetime later, at the age of 66, my dreams became reality as I stepped onto the deck of another Mercy Ship a hemisphere away.’ Read more at OverSixty.com

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