“I couldn’t see anything. They had to take my hand for me to go the bathroom, to use the shower. I couldn’t do anything by myself.” Leopold waved his hands as he spoke, adding, “I always had to depend on somebody else.”
Two years ago, cataracts began to cloud Leopold’s vision. Soon, they took over completely. “From the start, I thought about how to get rid of the problem,” he recalls. “But the money – it was so expensive.” After his initial diagnosis, the 45-year-old father of six went to his priest, asking for help. The leader of the parish gave Leopold money to buy medicine, but his vision continued to deteriorate. He asked his relatives for help, but they didn’t have the means. He asked friends, other taxi drivers and old schoolmates. They all began to disappear from his life.
“Now, I don’t have anyone,” he confesses, “just my family.” Before the cataracts came, Leopold used to spend long evenings with friends, sitting by the beach and talking well into the night. “But they don’t invite me out anymore, and no one comes around,” he says. He shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Well, that’s life.”
Leopold seemed to be stuck in a hopeless situation – always dependent on others, yet having fewer and fewer people to depend upon. He sat alone at home for two long years. His wife and sister busied themselves with caring for his six children as he remained immobile – an island trapped in the midst of their constant movements.
But, after some time, Leopold heard of an opportunity to have free cataract surgery onboard the Africa Mercy. In late January he found himself being led down the hospital halls on his way to the operating theater.
One day later, Leopold could read a chart ten feet away, pointing out which direction each “E” was facing. In a week or two, his vision should be completely back to normal. “We’re using a reasonably new therapy with him,” says volunteer ophthalmologist Woody Hopper (USA). “In the western world this medication has become quite common, and we’re seeing if it can help streamline the healing process here, too.” The plan is that Leopold will see better and faster, and he won’t need as many follow-up appointments. So far, it’s working beautifully.
After two years in cloudy shadows, Leopold welcomes a quick recovery – he’s s ready to get on with life. “If I can get my specialized driving license and be a chauffeur, that’d be good,” he says. “But I’ll do any kind of job I can – I want to work.”
He plans to contact his old friends too – the ones who disappeared. “I’ll welcome them back into my home,” he says. “Of course! I’ll be so glad to finally see them.”
Story by Anna Psiaki
Today on International Women’s Day we are celebrating women around the world who are being bold for change! We see a constant stream of strong, kind and successful women come and go from the Africa Mercy, and today I am honoring my friend Christina Fast, a Sterile Processing Educator, who has made safer surgery possible for thousands and continues to partner with Mercy Ships to educate people in undeveloped nations about sterile processing.
I first met Christina in 2011 while serving onboard the Africa Mercy. Volunteering with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone in 2011 motivated Christina at the age of 22 to look for an organization that worked internationally to improve medical device reprocessing. When no organization was found she decided to start her own, called Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust (SPECT), the only organization that focuses on free medical device reprocessing education and training in developing countries.
In partnership with Mercy Ships International and Grand Challenges Canada, SPECT has provided education and training to local Sterile Processors in Guinea, Republic of Congo, Madagascar, and Benin. Christina has also volunteered twice a year to assist Mercy Ships, an organization that provides surgeries in the poorest of the poor countries, training workers onboard and making recommendations for further improvement in practice. Christina also works countless hours assisting to coordinate and organize training for SPECT, as well as communicate the work SPECT is doing through social media and fundraisers.
Christina recently received an award as one of 20 people under the age of 35 who is making a difference in the developing world. SPECT is currently partnering with Mercy Ships Canada and Assist International, providing education classes, mentoring, and consultation to hospitals and clinics in Benin and Ethiopia.
Knowing that sterile processing is the underpinning of successful surgery, Christina is an amazing advocate for Sterile Processors and improvements in this area of health care. She gives her time and gives up more lucrative work, to do what she loves – helping people learn to clean and sterilize well!
Jane McIntosh volunteered with Mercy Ships for two years serving in Sierra Leone, Togo and Guinea. She headed up the Sterilizing Room, processing instruments for all surgeries. Jane currently works at Mercy Ships Canada in Donor Relations for Fundraising
Like most people, Nate Claus finished high school without a clear vision for his future. When he signed up for a Discipleship Training School (DTS) aboard the Mercy Ship Anastasis, he was hoping to learn more about God, get a taste of working overseas, and start to answer that nagging question: what was he meant to do with his life?
The five-month stint worked. Nate recalls his service with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone: “I was exposed to poverty and the way other people in the world live. It gave me career direction – a programmatic way to help people.” Armed with this newfound vision, Nate entered nursing school back home.
It wasn’t long before he re- joined Mercy Ships: Nate spent the summer of 2007 working as an instrument sterilizer in the ship’s hospital. Those months in Liberia confirmed his choice: “I knew then that this was the kind of work I want to be involved with for the rest of my life.” But he did not immediately sign up for full-time service. After passing his nursing exams, Nate worked five years in California.
He continued to volunteer with Mercy Ships during his vacation time, serving in Togo, Guinea, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Madagascar. Over the years, his role with Mercy Ships began to grow. Originally a ward nurse on board, Nate felt drawn to work with the screening team, joining full-time in Madagascar. Their unique role is to find and select the patients whose lives we seek to change.
Nate’s dedication and love for what he does enables him to face the sometimes heartbreaking “no” that he has to say to say to people we are unable to treat. Fortunately, we get to say “yes” many times and support patients on their journey to healing. More recently, he has stepped into the role of Screening Supervisor.
He brings gusto and imagination to his post: “I want to stay up late at night dreaming of creative ways we can improve the efficiency and safety in how we reach out to find and select patients,” he says, “I want to strive to improve our procedures and processes in order that they reflect the patient’s best interest.” Nate’s love for people and compassion for those in need shines through when he says, “I still view this job – this work we do as an organization – as the greatest privilege I have ever had … walking with others through this harrowing process of life and experiencing the vast spectrum of the human experience. The pain, joy, sorrow, laughter, anxiety, freedom, and adventure….[they] remind me that we are all connected. That deep connection… ultimately makes me want to work harder.”
Thanks for sharing with us Nate, the work of Mercy Ships wouldn’t be possible without volunteers like you!
For anyone who is thinking of applying to work as a Pharmacist or Pharmacy Technician and is wondering what a day in the life of the Pharmacy is like, here it is.
(also posted on PharmacyU)
There are three pharmacists providing pharmacy services on the ship. One of those positions may be filled by a Pharmacy Technician. During this field service, we have had one position that has been filled for 10 months and the other position has been occupied by a new pharmacist every 7 to 8 weeks. Each day, we supply the OR with the medications they need during surgery and in the PACU (Post Anaesthetic Care Unit). We also supply each Ward in the hospital with the medications they need for patients before and after surgery, as well as providing pre-packed take-home medications to patients who are being discharged.
A pharmacist attends clinical rounds and reviews patient charts to ensure that there are no drug related problems on each ward as well. It is a wonderful experience to dance and sing with the patients, translators and caregivers as the chaplaincy team has a worship time on the wards in the morning!
When a crew member sees the crew physician for medication, we are a community pharmacy for our crew, filling their prescription, counselling and checking drug interactions. We also provide health information and recommendations for over the counter medications for minor ailments, as well as answer any drug related questions by crew or by hospital staff. We have a good working relationship with the crew physician, hospital physicians, anaesthesiologists, and nurses and frequently answer drug related questions as they arise in the treatment of our patients, whether they are patients in the hospital or crew working on the ship.
We also supply medication to the off-site dental clinic, the outpatient clinic, the off-site and on-ship eye clinics, and the screening clinic when ordered, supplying the medication in packaging readable by our patients (often French and with a pictogram).
Our medications come from all over the world and arrive on the ship via the USA, UK, and the Netherlands. It can take up to four months to receive an order so we have to carefully manage our inventory.
Some of our medications are received as donations by generous supporters and others are purchased at discounted prices for non-profit organizations in low-income countries. Like everyone else on the ship, we are challenged for storage space but we do have a temperature regulated container in the cargo hold that holds much of our inventory of medication that does not fit in our small pharmacy space. This is the challenge of living and working on a ship!
We are currently recruiting for the next field service and welcome your application to serve the people of Cameroon in 2017-18. Its a really unique place to be a pharmacist or technician, being a wonderful blend of community and hospital pharmacy. I highly recommend it!
Sandy and her husband Larry left their home in Prince George, BC to live and work onboard the Africa Mercy for two years. That’s a big sacrifice! Our deepest thanks to them for their commitment to changing people’s lives.VOLUNTEER TODAY!
“My family said he was too tiny – he would die with surgery and die without surgery. They told me not to bother taking Djaliou to the ship,” recounted Sara…
Remembering when she was first told her son could have a free operation onboard the Africa Mercy. The five-month-old was born with a rare condition, something most of our surgeons had only read about. A mass on the infant’s tongue, present since birth, made it difficult for him to breathe or eat – which made it nearly impossible for him to grow. The energy the baby got from his mother’s milk was mostly used just to get air into his body. Whenever he inhaled, his ribcage would shudder as if he were taking his last breath.
But even with the odds against her little boy, Sara persisted. Although he couldn’t breastfeed, she was able to manually pump milk for him – but even then, Djaliou drank little. And, although most of her family advised Sara to give up her son as dead, her husband thought differently. “Go to the ship,” he said. So Sara packed a few things and made the ten-hour trek, with her silent baby – he had no strength to cry – tucked close.
But upon coming to the ship, Djaliou wasn’t a “quick fix.” His relatives had been right – at 4.7 pounds, the 3-month-old weighed far too little for surgery. Even though it was difficult for him to eat, he had to gain weight for any chance to live. For almost two months, Djaliou and his mother stayed at the HOPE Center, the Mercy Ships outpatient facility, working regularly with Lee-Anne Borrow (AUS), a volunteer dietician and the head of the Africa Mercy Infant Feeding Program. Slowly, the baby put on weight.
Even so, Sara remained ambivalent. “I always had two ideas in my head,” she recounted. “Sometimes I thought my baby would die. Sometimes I thought he would live …”
And perhaps Sara was right to remain cautious – even though Djaliou was closer and closer to being ready for surgery, such a specialized operation would require just the right group of experts, experts who were not yet onboard the Africa Mercy.
But then, almost two months after Sara had brought her son to the ship, the perfect scenario developed. “It’s really incredible,” said Lee-Anne. “We had an Ear Nose and Throat specialist and a Pediatric Anesthesiologist overlap here for a short window of time – they were exactly who we needed.”
Within a few days, Djaliou was whisked onboard the Africa Mercy – he would have surgery the following morning. But that night, even as the ward grew silent, the voices of Sara’s family began to echo through the mother’s head. “I did not sleep,” she recounts. “I was remembering what people had said – that my son would die during the operation.”
The next day, the operating team worked from morning till night, slowly removing the mass from Djaliou’s tongue. All the while, Sara waited, speaking very little to anyone. But, as evening approached, she was finally called into the recovery room. There was her son, Djaliou – alive.
A week after surgery, Sara sat next to Lee-Anne, watching as her son played with the dietician’s Africa Mercy badge. Djaliou had recovered quickly, and it was already his second-to-last checkup. Immediately after the operation, his breathing became much easier, and he began crying like a normal baby. Within a few days, he was even able to drink by himself.
“Now I’m just waiting until you’ll tell me I can go home,” Sara said with a laugh, looking at her son as he cooed. “I want to show everyone he is alive.”