Dianne Sherriff is the Africa Mercy’s Crew Physician. She and her husband, Lindsay Sherriff (Hospital Physician on board the ship) met each other 40 years ago, got married, started a family and opened a thriving General Practice in Australia. But it wasn’t until 25 years later that one of Dianne’s life-long dreams finally became a reality.
At 18, she heard missionaries share about the need for help in fields like education, healthcare, church development and more. “My heart was touched and I wanted to serve God overseas,” she recalls.
She applied to medical school and studied to become a Rural General Practitioner. “I planned to be a single doctor working in a developing country,” she recalls. Her thoughts on marriage at the time? Out of the question…until she met Lindsay, that is. He was a man who she never expected to meet, sharing similar loves and interests…it was a match made in medical school!
The newly married couple prepared themselves as “Generalists”, able to practice medicine anywhere. Once ready to start their overseas mission work, they applied to various organizations. But strangely, they all fell through. Despite these ‘closed doors,’ there were other opportunities in Australia, so Dianne and Lindsay built a life together there.
25 years later, with two grown sons, the time seemed right to serve God in a developing nation. “That’s when a Mercy Ships brochure came in the mail,” says Dianne. “There were positions we could both do, that were well-suited for our skill sets.” From there, the couple talked, prayed and applied. They tied up loose ends at home and set out to join the Africa Mercy, volunteering for the past two years in Madagascar and Benin.
What’s it like being the Crew Physician? “My job is a fascinating mix of a medical practice serving both volunteers and Africans who work on the ship. In addition, I get to work with patients, conducting medical examinations before surgery and caring for them after. I thoroughly enjoy both aspects of my role – it’s the best of both worlds,” says Dianne.
It’s no surprise, then, that Dianne’s work is having an impact on the people around her: “I counted it an enormous privilege to work with our women’s health patients in Madagascar and remember many of them individually with great love,” Dianne says. “One patient in particular had been so socially isolated that she would not even make eye contact. But after her operation, she started to blossom. She would come find me when I was visiting. Noticing her, I would open up my arm, and she would sidle in for a hug.”
And hugs are just one of Dianne’s many talents. The Africa Mercy is honored to have a Crew Physician like Dianne and appreciates all she does to support the crew.
Interested in fulfilling your dreams? Take Dianne’s advice: “Don’t anticipate what you will receive – it will be different from what you expect. You will leave with way more than you brought!” www.mercyships.org/volunteer
She first came to the Africa Mercy in a peach-colored dress, a thin veil waving around her face and flapping against her swollen cheek.
Her dress whipped around her frail legs as she climbed the gangway, her ascent slow and labored. That day, no one had any idea what Mabouba had been through for the last six years, nor how close her brush with death was yet to be.
“It was in 2010 that it started,” the 23-year-old recalls. Mabouba was finishing up her junior year of high school with plans to become a midwife. Then the tumor appeared, and everything changed. For the next six years, Mabouba remained at home, staying with her elder brother in Togo while the rest of her family lived abroad in Switzerland.
By 2014, her tumor had grown so much that it began to block Mabouba’s esophagus and windpipe.
“It had become very hard for her to eat, even to breathe,” recalls her Uncle Yousef, shaking his head. “Even in the night you could hear – she was drawing air with great difficulty.” Unable to swallow more than little bits of rice, eggs and torn-up morsels of bread, the young woman began to starve.
All the while though, Mabouba’s father was searching for help and trying to bring his daughter to Switzerland for treatment. “He did everything,” she recalls. “Nationality card, passport, everything. But, because of my condition, the visa application process continued to drag.”
The family scrambled for another solution. Uncles, grandparents and cousins gathered what money they could and sent Mabouba to Ghana for surgery.
But there, calamity struck. “The doctors said they had to remove some teeth before they could remove her tumor,” recalls her Uncle Yousef. “But something went wrong, and she was bleeding, bleeding, bleeding everywhere.” He looks down as he recalls this. “She almost died.”
With the precious money gone and her health in shards, Mabouba returned home. “Those days my mind was preoccupied with the tumor,” she recounts. “I could think of little else.”
In January 2016 Mabouba’s father came to Togo to see her. Shocked by her condition, he contacted the Swiss Mercy Ships office and found out that the floating hospital would be coming back to Benin that very August … and, yes, Mabouba would be seen.
But as January turned to April and April to July, Mabouba’s clothes hung more and more loosely off her body.
Finally, on September 17th, 2016, the young woman arrived at the ship and slowly lifted her feather-light frame up the gangway.
“When I finally stepped onboard, I felt immediately different.” she recounts. This moment had been six years coming. “I said to myself then, ‘I’m already healed.’”
But the trial wasn’t over. Tests revealed that the tumor would soon starve her to death, and it would be extraordinarily difficult to remove. “I took courage, though,” recalls Mabouba. “It was their kindness … I had confidence in God and in the team too.”
The morning of surgery, the operating team gathered around Mabouba to pray before the surgery began. Over the loudspeaker, the entire Africa Mercy crew was asked to intercede for an unnamed patient undergoing a difficult surgery.
For nine long hours, there was prayer all over the ship.
As evening approached, Mabouba was finally wheeled out of the operating theater. Miracle of all miracles, her tumor was gone.
“I remember when I woke up – I was transformed. I was a new person,” Mabouba recalls, wiping tears from her eyes. “You have saved my life, and I don’t know how to thank you. But God says when you care for your neighbor, heaven will be guaranteed for you. So I wish you heaven.”
Written by Anna Psiaki, Africa Mercy Writer
Meet Amy Wilderspin, a nurse on the Africa Mercy. She started her professional career caring for adults in Canada, but it took a trip to Africa to realize pediatric nursing is what’s really in her heart.
Amy’s first experience with Mercy Ships? An 8-week commitment in Madagascar in 2015 – and it was love at first sight: “I was on a high the whole time, so excited about everything – I knew right away that I’d have to come back!”
It was there that she began caring for children who’d received free surgery for bowed legs, windswept legs and knocked knees. Turns out, she was a natural with these little patients, caring for them as they mended and learned to walk again.
“Nurses around me looked at me like I was crazy when I would tell them that I hadn’t considered myself as a pediatric nurse. ‘No, you ARE a pediatric nurse!’ they’d respond. Now, in a second and longer-term commitment of 15-weeks in Benin, Amy is thrilled to return to her new-found niche: “I’ve always loved kids. Coming to the ship for a second time, I knew I wanted to work with them again.”
Amy seems more than content traveling to West Africa to live and work on a hospital ship. When she ponders what has impacted her most, she narrows it down to transformation. “I remember a young boy right after surgery – going from the point of complete fear, to then being able to color and play like a child again, and then finally to the point of being able to stand and play Connect Four. I remember thinking, ‘God is so good…’”
She holds back tears as she shares, clearly moved by recalling this boy, along with many other patients who’ve come out of their shell, right in front of her very eyes. “Being able to offer a smile, love, simple medical treatment, which might be a small thing in our minds – in our patients’ minds is huge. They return home not only physically healed, but also, in many cases, feeling spiritually and emotionally better.”
Amy isn’t put off by the idea of having to pay her way or raise support to volunteer with Mercy Ships. In fact, even though it can be a step out of one’s comfort zone, she believes it can be a mutually beneficial step: “I think people want to help the poor. There’s excitement when they get to see how Mercy Ships works. Some take the trip to Africa to serve, and some support the volunteers who go – it works for everyone because everyone can be involved!”
In the end, Amy is absolutely positive that sharing her nursing skills as a volunteer is the perfect fit for her. “Patients actually ask me, ‘What do you get out of this?’ I tell them: ‘I get to serve you and I get to serve God. That’s enough.”
What are you passionate about? Learn how you could use your special talents to help a patient come out of his or her shell. Check out www.mercyships.org/volunteer for more.
Every year volunteers from around the globe come together onboard to celebrate Christmas together. This month has been filled with holiday fun for patients and crew! Activities have included decorating the ship, Christmas movie and craft nights, cookie baking and storytelling, with events like a gingerbread house contest, ugly Christmas sweater party and of course a special Christmas Eve church service.