Right from the start, the odds were stacked against him. Little Samsdine was born with a cleft-palate, and since birth had been suffering almost constantly from malaria. He lives with his mother in a remote village which made accessing treatment and medicines difficult – the future wasn’t looking good. Then his mother heard that the Africa Mercy was docked in Cotonou, Benin, and made the long, difficult journey to the ship with her son. When they arrived at the Africa Mercy, Samsdine was not only sick with a bought of Malaria but was also severely malnourished and in constant pain.
Thanks to volunteers and donors, Samsdine had the support he needed to become healthy enough for surgery. With his cleft lip gone, he will be able to grow up big and strong, happy and healthy!
Meet Juste – a character and a half, wrapped up in a four-year-old’s body. He doesn’t seem bothered by the lump on his head and already has a plan for when it’s gone. “After they do the surgery, I will become president, have money and buy a car!” Juste tells his mom, Elisabeth.
Elisabeth isn’t surprised by her little guy’s ambitions. He’s got a way about him – fearless, funny and uninhibited. She marvels at his carefree nature, wishing she could have a dose of it sometimes.
“I was afraid to send him to school for fear of what kids would do. I thought of putting a hat on his head … but could picture them taking it from him and teasing him. You know how cruel some kids can be.” Her thoughts of what could happen got the best of her. She and her husband decided to keep him home from school.
The lump started growing on the top of Juste’s head after he was born. When he was two months old, the doctor who delivered him tried to treat it. Not long after, it returned, so he tried a different technique to remove it. When it continued to grow back, larger each time, he told Elisabeth, “I can no longer help your son – you’ll need to try someone else.”
Elisabeth found another doctor, but the procedure came with a hefty price tag: 500,000 CFA (almost $900 USD). They had nowhere near that kind of money. She tried another hospital – but, again, the treatment was too costly there. She didn’t give up and found another option, one that was much more affordable through a locally-funded agency. But due to the volume of patients already waiting, Juste would be at the end of a very long waiting list.
By the time he was four years old, Juste’s lump had become larger than a golf ball, and Elisabeth was out of options, except one – prayer. “I prayed … and, soon after, I heard about Mercy Ships!” This brand-new possibility felt promising.
Elisabeth brought Juste to be screened by doctors at Mercy Ships, hoping to finally hear good news. But Juste’s condition required additional testing before a decision on treatment could be made. The wait for an answer seemed to last forever, but it was worth it when Elisabeth received an appointment card for Juste to have surgery!
Then, even better news surfaced. What was originally thought to be a more serious condition was actually going to be simpler to treat. Within just a few days, Juste’s cyst was safely removed for good, and they were given the “okay” by doctors to leave!
Once home, the two were greeted by a very eager family. “Overwhelmed with joy, my husband got down on his knees and said, ‘I’m so happy!’ and thanked God for healing our son through Mercy Ships.”
Will Elisabeth support Juste’s dreams to become president? Maybe. But, for now, she has some ideas on what he should accomplish first … like going back to school.
Story by Windsor Marchesi
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Timmy Baskerville
“When I gave birth to Dorkas, she was a healthy baby,” recalled Nicole. “But the problems started soon after.” As she watched her firstborn constantly squinting, she became concerned. “I started to wonder what this could be,” she said.
Her fears were confirmed and multiplied when, three years later, a new baby named Anna was born. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Nicole. “Her vision was even worse than her sister’s.”
To have not one, but two, children who could not see? This unbelievable situation weighed heavily on Nicole, who was raising her children alone. “Was this because of some sin I have committed. Is it a curse?” she wondered.
But in reality, the little girls’ condition was genetic. Dorkas and Anna were just two of the roughly 300,000 blind children in sub-Saharan Africa.* Most of these children would be able to see if they had access to modern medicine.
Nicole didn’t know that her children’s condition could be cured, but she sought help anyway. “The moment I realized that both of my daughters could not see, I began to hope that one day they would get surgery,” she said. Nicole followed her mother’s advice to go to the national hospital in Togo. An ophthalmologist examined the girls and quickly diagnosed their condition as cataracts. But there was no surgeon to help them.
“We waited and waited and waited,” said Nicole. Nothing ever came of it.
Then Nicole heard that Mercy Ships was close by, and they could treat children’s cataracts. “I went hopefully to them,” she said, making the trip from Togo to neighboring Benin. It was worth all the effort! Nicole left the patient screening site with yellow cards – the signal that her daughters were scheduled for free surgeries. “It was then that I started to believe,” said Nicole. “But I was still praying and wondering if they would really be able to see after the operation. I was not yet confident.”
Anna and Dorkas were operated on in the same morning. Six-year-old Dorkas came through fine, but Nicole was far more worried about her younger daughter, two-year-old Anna, because her vision had been much worse.
After Anna’s surgery, volunteer eye surgeon Bob Burlingame went to the wards looking for Nicole, who had stepped out. “I asked the translator to tell her that everything went very very well and that I expected Anna to see much, much better,” he said.
The translator left the room, and only seconds later Dr. Bob heard Nicole shout from the other end of the hall, “Praise God! Praise God! Mercy has saved my baby’s sight!” And she came running down the hall, shouting and praising God.
* http://10ga.iapb.org/2016/10/# (International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness)
Written by Anna Psiaki
Canadians are funding the next HOPE centre (Hospital Out Patient Extension) and we couldn’t be more grateful! We want to keep you updated so you know just what your gift is supporting. During the month of April we have seen great progress begin at the Infrastructure sites in Cameroon. Read on to find out more!
The two sites are being transformed in preparation for the arrival of the Africa Mercy in the middle of August 2017. Laquintinie Hospital’s previous Pediatric Ward B is being remodeled into the Mercy Ships Dental Clinic. The original building has been abandoned for some time with toilets, electricity and rooms being unusable. Water damage from rain and poor plumbing has contributed to the need for a complete renovation. New electricity and plumbing will be a priority to ensure safe and effective services to the teams working at the dental clinic.
Windows are being removed and replaced to provide for air conditioning to the treatment rooms and offices. The extension for the Eye Clinic is being added to the right hand side of the Dental Clinic building (Old Pediatric Ward B).
The transformation continues at the site adjacent to the Nylon Hospital which will soon be the Cameroon HOPE Centre.
After a massive cleanup project that has occurred over the past months, a clean slate provides a great beginning to the renovation work. Successful removal of old cars, plastic drums, huge crates, squatters and chickens paved the way for the renovation to begin.
The buildings on site consist of four individual structures, Building 1-Facilitator offices, storage and meeting rooms, with a potential outside ‘gazebo’ for games craft activities.
Building 2-Double Storey Ward building – to potentially house 166 patients.
Building 3- Warehouse – converted into additional ward space for an additional 60 -70 beds, Ponseti Clinic and Day Crew facilities.
Building 4- Old garage building is being converted into amenities block for both male and female patients, providing both toilets and showers.
More updates to come as the infrastructure team progress with the renovations to the buildings in preparation for Cameroon field service. Please keep the teams in your prayers as they work hard to meet the deadlines and to provide great facilities for the future!
Christina has always loved it, even as a kid.
“I didn’t just dust around things on the shelves…I would move everything, I would dust it, and then I’d wipe it down with dust remover and put everything back just as it was. I had this passion for cleaning and organizing – but I didn’t know what to do with it…”
So in 2007, when Christina Fast was trying to choose a career path, she took the advice of a trusted neighbor in her hometown of Kamloops, Canada, who suggested a six-month sterile processing diploma program. This course taught Christina about the intense series of steps a surgical instrument goes through in order to be safe for use – including manual and/or mechanical washing, wrapping, sterilization, tracking, record keeping, validation, testing and inspections between each phase.
She’d come to understand that when done properly, this process takes almost three hours per instrument. And because an average surgery can require 80 to 100 instruments, she realized that a lot of and attention to detail was necessary to do this well. Just two months into her first job at a hospital, Christina knew she’d found her niche. But little did she know how her passion would greatly impact others…
It sparked from a friend’s blog, which spoke of volunteering with Mercy Ships in Africa. “I was blown away by the experiences she had and how she was able to serve,” says Christina, who starting looking at Mercy Ships job openings. When she saw the need for an OR Sterilizer, she applied, was accepted and a few months later, headed to Sierra Leone to join the Africa Mercy for a three-month assignment. In-between applying and leaving for the ship, Christina took a course to become certified in teaching the sterilization process to others – which came in handy.
While in Sierra Leone, Christina was invited to visit a local hospital where she encountered conditions she never thought possible. There were hospital rooms that hadn’t been cleaned in over 20 years. Used surgical instruments sat in dirty water only to be placed on a shelf or floor for future use. The hospital’s surgeon reported his patients’ postoperative infection rate nearing 90%. Locals told Christina that to enter a hospital in their community was likened to a death sentence. “I heard everything they were saying but I couldn’t believe it.”
Once back home, she made a decision. “I knew that I had knowledge I could pass on,” she says. With the support of family and friends, she began the process of founding SPECT: Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust – a non-profit organization that assists with sterilization techniques and education in hospitals and clinics where there are limited resources.
Still working her day-job and while organizing a non-profit, Christina continued to volunteer with Mercy Ships for two to three months, twice each year, helping the organization’s newly developed Medical Capacity Building department, an area dedicated to leaving a lasting impact to the countries visited. Her role? Teaching and training safe sterilization to workers from local hospitals and clinics.Today, SPECT is a valued a partner of Mercy Ships, and the two organizations are maximizing their reach by collaborating together and helping improve hospital conditions in undeveloped countries like Benin.
“There are many hospitals I’ve seen around the world where there’s no accountability and little awareness. And there are a lot of problems that I’ll never be able to fix in my lifetime…but at least we’re working towards fixing the ones we can!”
Mercy Ships Canada is so grateful to continue our partnership with SPECT and proud of the progress Christina and her team is making to provide safe surgery in West Africa.
Are you passionate about something that could help change the world? Check out mercyships.org/volunteer to find a position you could take to new heights!
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