Why (Demo)

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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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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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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Crowds wait for the chance for free surgery
Crowds wait for the chance for free surgery

Lack of access to safe surgery results in more deaths worldwide every year than HIV, tuberculosis and malaria combined, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

There is growing international acknowledgement of what theatre staffs have long known and advised: accidental trauma, birth complications and the lack of surgical intervention for amenable disease conditions causes millions of people annually life-long disability or death.

Empowered by the rising profile given to the accessibility of surgery in developing nations by the findings of The Lancet Commission on Global Surgery a movement has begun; a new determination to make access to safe and affordable surgery for the poor a reality.

For nearly 40 years Mercy Ships, the hospital-ship charity, has quietly made it a priority to provide safe surgery for people who otherwise would have no options. Mercy Ships joined the newly formed Global Alliance for Surgical, Obstetric, Trauma and Care (G4 Alliance) in 2015. The Lancet Commission’s report was published later that year with a vision to ‘embed surgery within the global health agenda, catalysing political change, and defining scalable solutions for provision of quality surgical and anaesthesia care for all.’ Together these bodies are stimulating a growing recognition that safe surgery must be an integral part of the global health agenda.

Esther Meyer enjoying down time on deck with some of her patients
Esther Meyer enjoying down time on deck with some of her patients

During 2014–2016 the Mercy Ship Africa Mercy completed two ten-month tours of duty in the island of Madagascar, off Africa’s eastern coast where 95% of Madagascar’s 23 million people live on less than $1.25 per day to cover all their needs: food, shelter, clothing, education and healthcare. Since much of the population lives in remote villages, it was common for patients on the hospital ship to explain how they had walked for days – sometimes carrying a child – to reach any public transport. From this point, basic healthcare may be accessible, but at a crippling cost. Before any treatment is undertaken, the patient must pay for – and sometimes even source – sutures, IV bags and fluid, dressings, bandages and pharmaceuticals, everything that is needed for treatment. So when free reconstructive or life-saving surgery was offered by Mercy Ships, patients and their families often broke down with tears of relief. Few had any other options, or even hope, for healing.

While in Madagascar, Mercy Ships launched a mobile education team. The ‘Checklist’ team of three to five doctors and nurses travelled a gruelling 16,829 kilometres to every regional hospital, even in the most inaccessible areas. They coached local healthcare professionals in the understanding and use of the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist. This simple tool helps any surgical team to improve safety in surgery. It has been proven that using the checklist has decreased operating room mortality by nearly 50% and significantly decreases surgical complications and infections.

In New Zealand and many parts of the world, this checklist is now mandatory. In Madagascar it was not utilised effectively. Mercy Ships came alongside every region in the country and assisted them in creating their personalised checklist and provided the participating hospitals with pulse oximeters.
Safer surgery is being performed throughout Madagascar as indicated by a follow-up visit after three months which showed a Checklist usage rate of 80%. Further assessment will take place in 2017. The Checklist team collected national healthcare data never previously compiled, and worked with other organisations to support the government in developing a national surgical plan.

In August the Mercy Ship sailed to Cotonou, Benin where the crew have 10 months to engage in medical capacity-building and provide healthcare for thousands more Africans in desperate need of both hope and healing.

Esther Meyer
Each year dozens of New Zealanders – including theatre nurses, anaesthesia staff, surgeons and other healthcare professionals – volunteer with Mercy Ships. The not-for-profit is Africa-focused, with a mission to provide free surgery for those in greatest need, and to train medical professionals to continue their work long after the ship departs.

Esther Meyer, theatre nurse from Drury volunteered for five months in the on board theatres during 2014, in the Republic of Congo. She found it to be impacting both on a professional and a personal level. Esther explains, “As the Mercy Ship is a floating hospital it is able to move to different locations, while still providing an excellent standard of care. It provides a place where local health professionals can come on board to learn valuable skills, without having to leave their own country.

“The camaraderie between the volunteers is unique. No one gets paid and there is no hierarchy in the operating room. We worked hard as a team with all the same goal in mind. The operating room is a fast paced and fast turnaround of staff. In New Zealand we have a wide range of ethnicities, so it wasn’t hard to feel at home. There is a mixture of British and American terminology inside the operating room, but plenty of understanding and patience. Laughter helps to break down barriers, and friends are made quickly. To be able to serve alongside such knowledgeable people, and to have the opportunity to learn from them, was very exciting.

Posted with permission by The Dissector December 2017

Video link : The Mercy Ships response to Global Surgical Need (3 min)

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Hannah fitting Jimmy's prosthesisHannah Rutherford recently volunteered with the world’s largest civilian hospital ship, the Africa Mercy. The Mercy Ship was docked in Madagascar, and Hannah describes how she was impacted professionally and personally as she worked alongside the international teams providing healthcare services to people in extreme poverty.

 

After studying at Otago University and graduating in 2010, Hannah worked for Counties Manukau District Health Board for two and a half years before moving to Sydney in 2013. In Australia I work at the Sydney Adventist Hospital as a cardiorespiratory physiotherapist.

 

“I first heard about Mercy Ships from a colleague whilst working as a rotational physiotherapist at Middlemore Hospital for Counties Manukau. Her enthusiasm was contagious. My desire to travel and learn about another culture meant this organisation caught my interest immediately. What I didn’t realise at this early stage was that the Mercy Ship would offer me so much more than an opportunity to work abroad as a physiotherapist,” says Hannah.

 

Mercy Ships is an international NGO that has operated a fleet of hospital ships in developing countries since 1978. They enter port cities at the invitation of a country’s government. They then work in that country alongside government, international and local NGOs and local church partners for 10 months of field service Their aim is to support a country’s health delivery by providing training and completing medical-capacity building projects. This leaves the country with a much stronger and sustainable healthcare system at the completion of the field service. Throughout each field service they also address immediate healthcare needs by providing thousands of free surgical services that are not available within the host nation.

 

Burns paitents need pysio to regain movement after surgeryHannah had the privilege of living and working on the Mercy Ship from January to May of 2016. The Africa Mercy houses a crew of 450 volunteers from around the world. The lower level of the ship is largely taken up by the hospital. The ship has five operating theatres and eighty inpatient beds over five wards. It is supported by dental, pathology, radiology and, of course, rehabilitation services.

 

Hannah worked as a member of the rehabilitation team alongside four other physiotherapists and two occupational therapists. The main role of the rehabilitation team is to provide therapy services to patients receiving orthopaedic or plastic reconstructive surgery. The team also treats patients from any specialty if a need arises, and even members of the crew for urgent musculoskeletal conditions. Whilst in Madagascar, Mercy Ships provided 99 orthopaedic and 102 plastic surgeries, in addition to hundreds of other surgeries, free of charge.

 

“While I was on the ship, the bulk of our caseload consisted of patients with congenital deformities, severe wound infections, or burn scar contractures that required plastic surgery.”

 

The rehabilitation team worked on the wards and in a military-style tent on the dockside. The tent at times housed six therapists and five interpreters, all working with patients and their families at the same time. This, along with the language and cultural barriers, limited resources and a restricted time frame, added to the challenges we faced with the clinical work they were doing.  “It was the craziest, but equally the most supportive, work environment I have ever been in. Many of the conditions we treated were made more complicated by the delays in the patients accessing health services,” says Hannah.

 

As a team they had many brainstorming sessions where they shared their expertise and supported each other in problem-solving the unique issues they were presented with. “Somehow we always managed to find a way to provide the best care for these patients. I believe we covered almost every area of physiotherapy while I was working there. One moment we would be prescribing bubble PEP and other respiratory treatments for a five-year-old, and then treating a man who had ataxia following a severe head injury. There was lots of shoulder rehabilitation following axilla releases, hand therapy and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. In addition, we were making all of our splints and orthotics. We had limited resources for this and often had to get creative with our designs.”

 

Hannah volunteered as a physio in MadagascarHannah’s Mercy Ships experience was a huge learning curve and an opportunity for growth both professionally and personally. “It was the most rewarding work I have ever been part of. As physiotherapists, our goal is to restore function. We were part of a team that provided a service that completely changed these patients’ lives by restoring a function they thought they had lost forever. With these patients we had the opportunity to help them regain movement in a limb where previously there had been none. It was the coolest gift you could ever give someone.”

 

“I met Jimmy on my second day in Madagascar. Mercy Ships had offered him a below-knee amputation, and he presented limping, with his leg wrapped in a filthy blanket and covered in flies. Jimmy told us his leg had been badly burnt when he was 11 years old, and the wound had never healed. Now aged 28, his leg was so badly infected the bones were exposed and he could not weight-bear on that leg. Mercy Ships offered him a below-knee amputation, and following this Jimmy’s rehab was initially straight forward, involving stump bandaging and strengthening work. Our first real challenge came when we decided to make a temporary prosthesis so that he could start partial weight-bearing. This involved some trial and error with the resources we had on hand, but we eventually had an effective prosthesis made out of casting material and the end of a crutch. Jimmy’s progress was nearly derailed by the growth of a bone spur at the end of his tibia. The original surgeon’s volunteer service had concluded by then, so we asked around the group of surgeons on board at the time if anyone would be comfortable operating on him. One plastic surgeon, whose specialty was facial surgery, offered to help.

 

Because Jimmy had to return to theatre for the spur removal, he was not ready for a prosthesis until our last few weeks in Madagascar.  We paid a local prosthetist to make him a permanent prosthesis; it cost about $80 and took one week to make. Jimmy would never have found the money to pay for it himself. He quickly and competently took ‘on board’ everything we taught him. He was walking unaided his prosthesis by the time Mercy Ships bade farewell to Madagascar’s shores.”

Posted with permission. Physio Matters, December 2016. Publisher Physiotherapy New Zealand

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Jonathan hard at work in the server room
Jonathan hard at work in the ship server room

West Africa is a completely different world to ours. It smells different, it looks different, the traffic is chaotic with motorbikes coming from all directions. One of the most significant differences, however, concerns the health system. It is basic and insufficient to serve the people of the country, not to mention that accessing even the most basic healthcare services can lead families into bankruptcy. Most people just learn to live with preventable and treatable conditions.

This year I had the opportunity to volunteer my time and IT skills in a West African country called Benin. I volunteered as an IT support specialist for an organisation called Mercy Ships, on board the Africa Mercy for three months. The Africa Mercy is a hospital ship which provides free surgeries and medical training to countries along the West African coast. Providing medical capacity building, surgical procedures and post-operative care to the highest standard, the Africa Mercy impacts thousands of lives in each country they dock in.

My time was spent fixing all sorts of IT equipment on the ship. The ship is a unique environment in terms of IT support. It contains a hospital,ship engine room, school, café/shop, hair salon, library, church, bank, and 450 crew members with plenty of personal devices on board. The rest of the IT team and I had to be well-organised and inventive to handle all the technology issues that were thrown at us. Our mission was to make a first world hospital run smoothly on a first-world ship in a third world country. By working and living on the ship

Jonathan Clark and his wife Stephanie Jonathan Clark and his wife Stephanie on the deck of Africa Mercy
Jonathan Clark and wife Stephanie on the Africa Mercy

24/7,when you do a job for someone you not only feel that you are helping the people of Benin but you also feel like you are helping out friends. This gave me a real sense of accomplishment in my job.

Volunteering for Mercy Ships has reminded me that customers and patients are the main reason I come into work every day. The effort I put into developing quality software will ultimately result in a better experience for those consumers and patients. I have also realized how blessed we are in New Zealand to have a reliable and affordable health system. There are so many factors in Benin preventing people from getting the care that they need. So let us be thankful this Christmas that we have the facilities and resources needed to have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

by Jonathan Clark, Software Developer at Orion Health

 

Find out more: The Toughest tech you’ll ever love

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Dr Hadleigh Reid's second tour-of-duty
Dr Hadleigh Reid’s second tour-of-duty

It is becoming a habit for Dr Hadleigh Reid to spend his down-time overseas – providing free dental treatment for some of the world’s poorest people.

The Wanganui dentist is serving his second tour of duty in Africa with Mercy Ships. This month-long humanitarian adventure has taken Reid to post-Ebola Benin, where he is treating up to 18 patients living in poverty each day.  On appointment days, the dental team arrives to the on-shore clinic with hundreds in pain lined up and waiting for help that is otherwise simply inaccessible.

Reid finds the long hours and demanding work challenging but extremely rewarding. “I think the biggest factor we encounter is the lack of dental treatment available.  Small problems get bigger and bigger when left untreated.   We see some very extreme cases, so much more advanced than anything I would see at home.  I had a teenager in today who had infection draining from a tooth out of his neck and it had been like that for two years!  We had a couple of patients in yesterday with really advanced oral cancer involving their tongue, neck and throat.  Last week there was a patient who had dead and infected bone in his lower jaw that was so bad that his jaw joint had rotted away!”

Reid discovered some surprises upon his return to post-Ebola Africa.  “It was interesting talking someone on the ship the other day who said the overall mortality rate dropped significantly in West Africa during Ebola – because people were so much more careful about hygiene and transmitting infectious diseases!

“I think it is a great opportunity to be able to assist developing nations with their health care and training and supporting their health workers.  It gives you a different perspective on life and appreciation for all we take for granted.”

Each year the Mercy Ships crew provide more than 20,000 dental services, in addition to thousands of medical and surgical services, at no charge. They work alongside local government providers to improve local health care delivery systems in nations at the lowest end of the UN Haman Development Index.

More information;  visit www.mercyships.org.nz

ABOUT MERCY SHIPS:

Mercy Ships uses hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare services, capacity building and sustainable development to those with little access in the developing world. Founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries providing services valued at more than $1 billion, with more than 2.56 million people directly benefiting. The Africa Mercy is crewed by 400 volunteers from up to 40 nations, an average of 1000 each year. Professionals including surgeons, dentists, nurses, healthcare trainers, teachers, cooks, seamen, engineers, and agriculturalists donate their time and skills to the effort. With offices in 16 nations including New Zealand, Mercy Ships seeks to transform individuals and serve nations one at a time.

 

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At 7 mths Haingo was newborn size
At 7 mths Haingo was newborn size
Haingo was born in a tropical downpour. Even in the hut’s dim light it was clear Hiango’s tiny mouth was slashed by a bi-lateral cleft lip. Her mother Viviaby’s joy turned to sadness, and her father immediately rejected the newborn saying, “In our family we don’t have babies like this!”

No one in their Madagascan village had heard of this disfigurement. “Is it because of something that I did?” Viviaby wondered. “But I am a Christian, we have nothing taboo (cursed). If God gave her to me like she is, He knows how to take care of her.” But the visible deformity was the least of Haingo’s problems.

The situation became dire as days passed and Haingo was unable to breastfeed because of her cleft palate. The hole in the roof of her mouth prevented Haingo from sucking. She cried incessantly. Her father said, ‘It’s not going to survive so you’d better kill it!” Her mother declared, “Let her live!”
Viviaby kept Haingo alive with diluted canned milk – each can costing a day’s wages. Still Haingo failed to thrive. “I did not have money to buy something good for her, recalls Viviaby. “She was getting more and more skinny. I was afraid, I was always praying.” At seven months old Haingo weighed only 2.2kg.

On every side Viviaby encountered superstition and cruel comments – until one day women who recently received free surgeries on the Mercy Ship walked by their secluded village. They heard about Haingo. “There is free treatment. You should bring your baby there!” they shared.
So for two days petite courageous Vivaby carried her baby through rugged countryside to find transport to the Mercy Ships patient screening in her region.

The urgency of Haingo’s situation was accessed by screening coordinator Mirjam. “Haingo was seven months old, looked like she was only two months. I was surprised she was still alive. I realised we couldn’t do surgery straight away. She would have to be in our Infant Feeding Program to gain weight.” Haingo and her valiant mother accompanied the team returning to the Africa Mercy on a Mission Aviation Fellowship flight.

With loads of TLC Haingo gained enough weight to have surgery
With loads of TLC Haingo gained enough weight for surgery
Mother and daughter were rushed onboard the hospital ship, and paediatric nurses began around-the-clock emergency nutrition. Shelby was charge nurse when Haingo was admitted. “She was so small! If you didn’t know her age you would think she was newborn.”
Viviaby slept well for the first time since Haingo’s birth because “They were feeding her with an (oral feeding) syringe because she couldn’t suck a bottle,” she explains.

Haingo began to gain weight and become responsive. Viviaby talked with other mothers of cleft lip babies in the ward. She was comforted, and she no longer felt alone. After 10 days Haingo was stabilised and discharged to the Mercy Ships HOPE (Hospital Out Patients Extension) Centre. Haingo’s weight was tracked, her development and care discussed in the Infant Feeding Program (IFP). “I love seeing the transformation as the infants gain weight, get stronger and reach developmental milestones,” shares Mercy Ships dietitian, Jillian Davis (USA), ‘A most impacting aspect is the parents gaining hope.”
“Before, Haingo was crying a lot because she did not eat enough. But now she is happy! She has enough food!” exclaimed Viviaby.

As Haingo grew, she began to do all the heart-warming things that babies her age are purposed to. She tracks movement with eyes that were previously glazed, and waves ‘Veloma’ (goodbye) with the chubby arms that had been so frail. After five months Haingo reached 3.5 kg, and the vital ‘average weight for height’ benchmark. At last she was strong enough to undergo operations to repair her cleft lip and part of her palate.

As Haingo came out of the first surgeries, Viviaby gathered her baby in her arms. “She’s beautiful!” was all the overwhelmed mother could say.
When Viviaby and Haingo returned to their village, Haingo’s four-year-old brother was distraught. “You exchanged my sister!” he accused, “It’s not my sister!” The villagers too were amazed by the extraordinary change in Haingo’s appearance. Viviaby explained the remaining surgery would fix all of the baby’s problems.

At 13 months old Haingo received her finial free operation. Only now, with her palate closed, can she eat and drink normally, with the ability to speak clearly.

Viviaby reflects, “Nobody believed someone could help Haingo. Without Mercy Ships, Haingo would have died. But my baby is healed!”

Haingo’s life was transformed by mercy.

Haingo was transformed by mercy
Haingo was transformed by mercy

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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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