When Mary first came to the Africa Mercy, she would barely look up. Her neurofibroma – a tumor connected to the nerves outside her brain – had been growing since birth. It flapped over her left eye so she could hardly see out from underneath.
Now 14 years old, Mary’s condition seemed like a never-ending nightmare. She often came home from school in tears after kids called her “Big Eye” while she tried to study.
“Will this ever go away?” she would ask, looking to her mother for reassurance. “The day is coming when you will no longer have this,” her mother would respond, having faith that help would one day find her daughter. She was right…
After hearing on the radio that a hospital ship was coming to Benin to do free surgeries for people like her daughter, Mary’s mother brought her to a screening centre in Cotonou. Their wish came true…Mary was given an appointment card for a free surgery!
Thanks to donors and volunteers, Mary had a successful surgery to remove her neurofibroma on October 14th! She has now recovered and is heading home to live the normal life that every 14-year-old girl deserves.
Sterile processing is a hot topic! Did you know the post-operative infection rate in West Africa is around 70%?* This means that people who are able to have surgery may die not from the surgery itself, but from an infection that could easily be prevented by sterilizing equipment properly.
The GOOD news? We know some people who are working hard to change this!
Mercy Ships Canada has had the pleasure of growing our partnership with Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust (SPECT) and would like to highlight their recent work in Cotonou, Benin!
We caught up with SPECT co-founder, Olive Fast, who has returned from working with Mercy Ships in Benin, to hear how the Sterile Processing Course went.
We had 60 participants, 41 from CNHU (the largest teaching hospital in Benin) in the morning class and 19 in the afternoon class from Menonton, St. Luc, CHU-MEL, and Bethesda hospitals. Each class was 3 hours in length and they ran over 10 days. The amazing thing we found was that almost all the participants came each day – they valued the training so much! There was
There was great discussion and they emphasized that they really wanted to know what was the best way to sterilize so they could work towards that goal. We had a team of 4-6 people involved at various times and received great support from the Capacity Building Office staff who printed off sign in sheets, tests, questionnaires, etc, as well as made sure we had a driver and vehicle as needed.
The participants were wonderful people who while wanting knowledge laughed readily and appreciated the opportunity to talk with each other and discuss ways to improve their work processes. Christina usually spends time working with the participants in their departments, however she only had time this visit to do the education classes.
Suzanne Veltjens, a sterile processor and nurse working on the ship, joined us for most classes and is spending 1-2 days a week until the end of December visiting participants. She will be working with them to meet the goals they set for themselves the last day of classes.
Olive and her husband Dan became involved with SPECT and Mercy Ships Canada after their daughter Christina’s first stint volunteering with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone.
After Christina had visited several of the hospitals’ sterilization areas she called home and said she didn’t know what to do but she had to do something. After talking with Jane McIntosh, she decided to start an organization. Realizing she couldn’t do this work alone, Dan and Olive agreed to work with her to see her vision become a reality. Olive agreed to chair SPECT and together we worked to find trustees – Jane being one of them.
“Once we became a trust, we applied for charitable status and received it in record time. We then also applied for a Grand Challenges Grant (GCC) and received the grant 8 months after becoming a Trust. The year we became a trust I received a professional leave from my job teaching at Mount Royal University, so Dan – who loves to travel – quite his program coordinator job and we traveled” says Olive.
When Olive and Dan returned from traveling they had a lot of work to do with GCC and Dan got drawn into that work. Dan has continued to work with SPECT on a volunteer basis as it grows. Olive has been given a sabbatical this year and part of her commitment is to work part time with SPECT to grow the organization.
Watch Mission Madagascar I and II to Learn more about SPECT’s work
*Studies conducted in LMICs (Abdulasalam et al., 2014; Ogwant et al., 2013; WHO, 2008) indicate that the percentages of SSIs are higher than in developed countries, citing rates from 10.9% to 70%.
The Mercy Ships crew extends far beyond the portholes of the Africa Mercy and the people who occupy her cabins. It includes patients, volunteers, donors, staff members, board members and anyone who supports Mercy Ships!
This year Mercy Ships Canada is participating in Giving TuesdayCA by celebrating our 1st Giving Crewday. On November 29, 2016 mark your calendars because we want YOU to become part of our crew!
From midnight through 11:59 p.m. PST, Your gift, no matter the size, will make a difference. We want to grow our crew, and whether it’s your 1st, 5th, 20th or 50th time giving to Mercy Ships we couldn’t be happier to have you in our crew and grateful for your support!
ALL ONLINE DONATIONS OVER $100 WILL RECEIVE A FREE CREW T-SHIRT
Contact email@example.com with any questions you may have
What is Giving TuesdayCA?
It is a new Canadian movement for giving and volunteering, taking place each year after Cyber Monday. The “Opening day of the giving season,” it is a day where charities, companies, and individuals join together to share commitments, rally for favorite causes and think about others.
What is Giving Crewday?
Giving Crewday is a day Mercy Ship Canada encourages Canadians to join the Mercy Ships crew (which is made up of everyone who supports Mercy Ships!) to support our medical and training programs in Africa and maximize impact!
Why should I give to Mercy Ships?
5 billion people lack access to safe surgery. For almost 40 years Mercy Ships has been serving the world’s poor and providing free medical care, training, and infrastructure development.
Our mission is to leave a lasting impact in the countries we visit so that they have the knowledge and resources needed to provide safe, accessible and timely surgery.
Our donors and volunteers keep Mercy Ships afloat. Every dollar makes a difference and means Mercy Ships can continue to help those most in need and transform lives!
What can I do to spread the word about Giving Crewday?
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to join in conversations about #GivingCrewday and spread the excitement!
On Giving Crewday, participate in our social media challenges to help spread the word and for the chance to win a crew t-shirt!
On Wednesday, 12 October 2016, the President of Benin, Patrice Talon – accompanied by SE Alassane Seidou, Minister of Health ; SE Adidjat Mathys, Ministre of Travel, of the Public Function and Social Affairs ; and M. Aurielien Agbenonci, Minister of Foreign Affairs – visited the Africa Mercy to meet with Don Stephens, Mercy Ships President and Founder; Pierre Christ, Governmental Liaison; and members of the Mercy Ships Board of Directors.
As the officials of Benin boarded the ship, they were welcomed by the Africa Mercy Managing Director Robin MacAlpine along with board members of Mercy Ships, several of whom speak French, which seemed to impress the President. “You speak French?!” he said with some surprise, followed by laughs from around the room.
The tour commenced with a trip to the hospital and surgical wards of the Africa Mercy. The first stop was outside the OR where Dr. Gary Parker, Surgeon and Chief Medical Officer, made a brief appearance to introduce himself and share about his work onboard.
From there, they entered several hospital wards where many patients were recovering from various surgeries.
President Talon showed great compassion and genuine care, shaking hands with patients and their caregivers. Most were wide-eyed at the reality of having the President of Benin standing at the foot of their beds. President Talon inquired about each patient with whom he spoke and listened attentively as he was given an update on their condition. He showed enthusiasm when learning about their progress, often saying, “C’est formidable! (“It’s wonderful!),” with affirming nods and smiles.
As they proceeded down the hallway to the next ward, President Talon and Mr. Stephens stopped at one of many framed photos that line the hospital corridors. They marveled at the before and after images of a former patient who had received a life-changing surgery.
Mr. Stephens introduced President Talon to several hospital “employees,” most of whom are volunteers and some of whom are day-crew hired locally. Mr. Stephens also spoke of the training programs that Mercy Ships provides to teach local Beninois medical professionals the skills needed to help the healthcare infrastructure progress for the Benin of tomorrow.
Next, state-of-the-art hospital support facilities were viewed, as President Talon and team passed by the ship’s laboratory, x-ray room and CT scanning area.
At the tour’s conclusion, the honored guests sat to discuss their partnership, and President Talon and Mr. Stephens thanked each other for the privilege of working together to help the citizens of Benin. Mr. Stephens presented President Talon with a gift – a pen, fashioned from 60-year-old wood from the Anastasis, a previous Mercy Ship. As he presented it to the President, Mr. Stephens said, “This is for you as an Individual, not for the office of the President.”
Mr. Christ reiterated Mr. Stephens’ message, translating to the President, “It’s meant for you as a personal gift – to keep.” President Talon expressed his gratitude.
The President spoke with high regard of the work of Mercy Ships and said it was an honor to be onboard visiting. He also commended Mr. Stephens for his life-long contributions as President and Founder of Mercy Ships. Yet Mr. Stephens quickly pointed around the ship, saying, “It’s the people here who make this work.”
M. Aurielien Agbenonci, Minister of Foreign Affairs, signed the Mercy Ships guest book, writing the following message on behalf of the President:
“I have enjoyed my visit today with Mercy Ships. I address all my thanks and gratitude on behalf of all of Benin to the Mercy Ships team for so many sufferings relieved, so many diseases healed and so many patients whose conditions are improving. I express my encouragement to your team for the extraordinary work that is done to give joy of living to our fellow citizens. Long life to Mercy Ships.” – Patrice Talon, President de la Republic
Story by Windsor Marchesi
Six-year old Elina and her mother were coaxed out of the bushes. They had been waiting, undetected, for the crowds to thin at a medical screening center in Madagascar. After a Mercy Ships nurse named Ria invited Elina to come out of hiding, she discovered the disfiguring burns that covered a significant part of the child’s body – fusing her right arm, neck and cheek together into a painfully restrictive stance.
Ria asked Elina’s mother what had happened to her daughter. A translator tried her best to share the message but simply couldn’t because she was overcome with emotion. A second translator took over the exchange. She, too, was overcome with emotion but managed to deliver the tragic truth: Elina had been burned – literally held in open flames – in retaliation over a family dispute. Although the person responsible had been caught, the damage was done … sadly, Elina would never be the same. She had spent the months in extreme pain as her body tried to heal itself. But, with no access to emergency treatment, severe burn contractures had formed, and serious infection was setting in.
Her burns required significant wound care and dressing changes in order to heal properly before any surgical procedures could be considered to release the contractures caused by the scars. Multiple surgeries would be needed, including skin grafts, as well as ample time for full recovery. Proper physical therapy and rehabilitation would be essential. Taking all of this into account, the case fell outside the scope of what Mercy Ships could commit to within the time constraints of the field service.
But Ria felt a tug at her heart to help. “There was something about Elina. I decided I was going to fight for her.”
The case was presented to a medical review board for consideration to determine whether treatment could be managed successfully and would be in the best interest of the patient. Ria was delighted when she received the go-ahead to let Elina and her mother know that surgery was approved. But then a new challenge presented itself. Ria could not find the contact information for Elina. So, hitting the streets, she drove around town, searching for a sign of Elina or her mother and asking God for help. She spoke to people along the way, asking if they could help, but to no avail.
Just when it seemed she’d never find them, Ria happened upon a group of women on the side of the road. She showed them a photo of Elina. “Yes! I do know her!” one woman replied. “She’s my granddaughter!” She showed Ria the way to Elina’s home, where Ria personally delivered the exciting message. It was truly a joyous occasion that included many sighs of relief. However, this was just the beginning of what would be a very long road.
Regular visits to the ship’s outpatient treatment center allowed Elina to receive proper wound care. At first, she fought back as nurses tried to gently remove the painful bandages and clean the wounds.
After a few months, Elina had healed enough to be admitted to the ship’s hospital. Through a series of complex surgeries, the volunteer surgeons successfully released the contractures and performed skin grafts, providing a better chance for Elina to eventually move her arm, neck and head more normally.
The recovery period took months, but it was a special time. Elina grew stronger every day. Her range of motion continued to improve as she reached her arms higher and higher above her head, through playful and creative exercises designed by the nurturing therapists.
While Elina worked hard to get better, she didn’t have to work at wiggling her way into the hearts of crew members. One of her new friends, an HR guy named Ben, made every effort to check in on Elina regularly. Since he had an office job during the day, patient interaction wasn’t part of his job duties.
But he took it upon himself to run down to the hospital ward on his days off or during break time. Together he and Elina played funny games, made silly faces and exchanged lots of smiles. Ben liked visiting Elina because, well, “she just made things better.” Ben described her as having “big brown eyes and a laugh that cures bad days.” He and Elina formed a special bond, and he’d push her around the ward in a little red car.
Ben struggled with the injustice of the situation that caused Elina’s injuries, but he came to terms with it in his own way. He said, “I understood that what Elina truly needed (and I could actually provide) was not an account to be balanced, but love that granted a chance for laughter.” And that’s exactly what he did. From down the hall, you could see Elina smiling and squealing his name, demanding with a pointing finger that he’d “do it again” – maybe a bit faster this time.
Ria extended her love for Elina to the rest of the girl’s family. She traveled to their home to check in, quickly learning the Malagasy language so she could have meaningful conversations. It was as though she was Elina’s “loving Aunty,” accepted into the family because of her shared love for the little girl, which went beyond words. At Christmas time, Ria delivered a goose to the family as a gift, and they celebrated their new friendship.
Elina didn’t have a clue that her courageous six-year-old spirit would leave such a mark on the Mercy Ships family. “It was beautiful to see how we all worked together from all different areas to care for Elina,” said Ria.
Unexpected bonds formed between Elina and so many others. By the time she left the ship to go home, she was bright and shining. Sometimes it takes a village, other times a ship, to raise a child like Elina out of despair. Her scars will remain, but hopefully they will remind her less of the pain and more of the people who grew to love her so dearly.
Story by Windsor Marchesi