For half her life, a hernia had restricted 10-year old Cecelia. She stayed close to home and could not run and climb with the other village children.
Her mother Sidonie carried her daughter’s schoolbag and walked her to school every day. Any strain or weight-bearing activity was just too much for the little girl.
Then one fabulous day Sidonie heard that a Mercy Ships team would be in their town screening potential patients for free surgery.
She and her mother were overjoyed to receive an appointment card for surgery. Cecelia’s whole world began to fill with new experiences as she and her mother made the long, difficult journey from Madagascar’s west coast to the Mercy Ship docked on the eastern seaboard.
Cecelia took in every detail around her when she arrived. She held tightly to her new friend Julia – the knitted teddy bear given to her at admission.
Cecelia had never seen a ship before and exclaimed, “It’s as big as a wall … and is full of foreigners, translators and TOYS!” She did not mind being in the hospital at all. “I am happy the nurses are talking to me, even though I don’t know what they are saying. I don’t know their words, but I understand their faces and smiles,” she said.
Sidonie offered a gentle reflection about their stay onboard: “Mercy Ships really care about a person. Thank you for opening your arms and embracing us!”
After a 10 day-recovery from her hernia operation and sailing through the post-op checks, Sidonie, Cecelia and her new teddy bear Julia started their long trip home.
And, as they travelled home, Sidonie dreamed of a normal life for her daughter. Cecelia just wanted to learn to ride a bicycle!
Story by Sharon Walls
Those sobering facts from the World Health Organization are the motivation for the Helping Babies Breathe (HBB) course, an innovative initiative developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in collaboration with numerous health organizations.
The premise is simple but powerful
by teaching birth attendants in resource-limited countries how to perform simple newborn assessment and resuscitation techniques, much needless death and heartbreak can be avoided.
The courses uses a bag and mask provided by Laerdal Global Health, the nonprofit arm of Laerdal Medical. According to Laerdal’s website, the Helping Babies Breathe program led to a reduction of 47% in early newborn mortality and 24% in rates of stillbirths in Tanzania.
Mercy Ships partners with Peace Corps volunteers
Partnering with Peace Corps volunteers brought this life-saving education to 10 rural health centers in Madagascar. The program is born out of the Mercy Ships desire to affect long-lasting development by equipping healthcare providers and communities with vital education.
Krissy Close, the Mercy Ships Capacity-Building Manager, explains the advantages of the partnership:
“Partnering with the Peace Corps is an opportunity to expand influence. They have access to primary healthcare centers out in the rural areas. Even more than the access, they have the trust of the communities. They have lived and worked in their villages for a year, and they have built the relationship that is needed to influence behavior change. Our ship gives the tools for change – training on how to do the response, the equipment to do it, and the documentation and information to train others.”
In January, 10 Peace Corps volunteers participated in a one-day HBB course on the Africa Mercy. It was quite a success, as the volunteers quickly picked up the new skills. Then, armed with materials and manikins, they returned to their respective villages to provide HBB training to the local healthcare workers.
Follow-up team to visit
In May a team was sent to the 10 villages to evaluate the effectiveness of the course and to address any issues. They found tremendously encouraging evidence of change. One local midwife said, “Giving life to a baby is really incredible.” She had been faced with a baby who was born silent, limp and blue. After soothing the mother by saying, “Have courage. Your baby will be okay,” she used her newfound skills and equipment to save the baby’s life.
A local nurse said, “This was such beneficial training because I didn’t always know what to do for a baby … and I would send patients to a bigger hospital, but they couldn’t afford it. Now I am confident in resuscitating a newborn, and people can trust me.”
One Peace Corps volunteer used the training as a platform for advocacy. It increased her community’s faith in the health center, and more women were prompted to come to the center to give birth safely instead of giving birth at home.
Another Peace Corps volunteer said, “This whole project – being able to offer this training to my health center, as well as the trip to the ship, is definitely the highlight of my Peace Corps service so far. The impact we can have with a small amount of targeted investment is huge. And it feels good to know I’ve made a difference.”
A very small investment of time, money and materials goes a long way
the training will potentially impact 8,000 to 12,000 people in his region.
A local health center director expressed her gratitude for the training: “Thank you so much for this training. Thank you for caring for us, for our patients. Thank you for coming to visit us. Thank you to Mercy Ships for all you have done for our country and our people. God bless you!”
We cannot wait to hear the continuing stories of lives saved and changed … the stories of babies who have been given the gift of life because of this program.
Story by Eunice Hiew
Sahondra peeked outside the warehouse doors at the Africa Mercy. The world’s largest, non-profit hospital ship sat quietly on the dock. She marveled at the gentle giant and what it represents: hope and healing. The ship reminded Sahondra of another hospital ship, the Anastasis – a ship that brought her healing in 1996.
Mercy Ships visited Madagascar in June 1996 on a three-month medical mission. The brief stay had an enduring impact. People excluded by society because of their physical conditions experienced love and compassion by the all-volunteer crew. And among those treated was Sahondra.
Since birth, a cleft lip and palate had limited Sahondra’s ability to eat, speak and breathe normally. It was nearly impossible to take short controlled breaths through her mouth to ease her asthma attacks. Her cleft lip split her upper lip apart up to her nose, attracting awkward glances from strangers.
Dr. Gary Parker performed two surgeries on Sahondra, repairing her palate and pharynx. The surgeries gave Sahondra a new life! Her asthma disappeared, and for the first time ever she ate normally. Slowly she learned to speak properly.
When Sahondra said goodbye to the Anastasis in August 1996, never did she imagine that she would see a Mercy Ships vessel again or the people aboard. However, 18 years later, she stood on the dock peeking outside the warehouse doors, waiting for Dr. Gary to emerge.
Sahondra returned not just for the reunion. Mercy Ships had performed two free surgeries on her cleft lip and palate in 1996, but that did not stop them from continuing to invest in Sahondra’s healing. Mercy Ships offered Sahondra a second set of surgeries at no cost on the Africa Mercy.
Her palate required additional work to continue to offer her the best chance at speaking perfectly. While Dr. Gary worked on her palate, Dr. Tertius Venter separated three toes on her right foot and two toes on her left foot, which had been webbed together since birth.
For Sahondra, the long-term investment Mercy Ships has made and continues to make in Africa has made all the difference in her life.
She said, “Mercy Ships has really changed my life. My health, my mind are all changed. They gave me a new hope to face my life. They gave me a better life!”
Story by Tanya Sierra
Today we celebrate World Food Day! Below is an update from the field, and an example of the work being done in Madagascar by the Mercy Ships Agricultural team and partners to improve farming practices and meet the nutritional needs of families and individuals in the country.
Last week I had the opportunity to conduct a follow-up visit with Eliphaz Essah, Agriculture Projects Facilitator, at Love-N-Care Ministries agriculture project here in Tamatave. Ludovic and Harisolo, two of the staff at Love-N-Care, attended the Food for Life Agriculture training in Antananarivo during Mada 1.
The land where they are working is very sandy, so during the last field service Love-N-Care partnered with Mercy Ships to have all of the food scraps from the ship brought to their site here in Tamatave to be used for compost.
When Ludovic and Harisolo graduated from the Food for Life training this spring, they returned to Tamatave to turn the land, that no one believed was any good, into a garden with the vision of it one day becoming a farm.
An experiment like this has never been attempted in Tamatave due to the prevailing belief that “the soil in the area can never be used for anything, other than growing vanilla and palm trees, so do not even try”.
During the last field service when the ship first started sending the food scraps to the site, the land was not only sandy but also full of weeds and shrubs. They first experimented on a small area of the land and dug a well to ensure that it would be able to produce vegetables, and it succeeded.
Now it has become a beautiful garden where they are growing a large variety of vegetables and fruit such as different types of cabbage, watermelon, eggplant, carrots, strawberries, green peppers, and corn to name a few.
Currently they are expanding the area of their garden. This is all done by hand with the assistance of the families of the students who attend the school.
Love-N-Care Ministries and the families have created a partnership where the families assist in the garden and in return they receive training and seeds to start their own gardens at their homes.
Ludovic and Harisolo are also working on adding animal production to their garden production. Currently they have ten chickens, but are unable to expand this until they have built better cages to keep them in.
They have submitted a proposal to Love-N-Care Ministries to add ducks in addition to more chickens. They are hoping to start the animal production in two to three months.
Ludovic and Harisolo’s project leader said “I can see that what is happening fits with the vision of the ministry as well as meeting the needs of the students through providing food. We are continuing to grow which will allow us, in years to come, to continue to meet the needs of the students through the food production.”
– Erica Schmidt, Capacity Building Support Projects AFM
If you’ve had surgery in the last decade you may recall being asked several times on the day of surgery questions like what is your name, what are you here for today, and do you have any allergies.
When I was asked these questions a few years ago before undergoing shoulder surgery, I wondered to myself “Shouldn’t you know this? You’re operating on me!” – but now I understand; they do know, they are just following the Checklist.
The World Health Organizaiton (WHO) Safe Surgery Saves Lives Surgical Safety Checklist (aka. the Checklist) is a simple tool that helps the surgical team to improve safety in surgery and has been proven to decrease operating room mortality by nearly 50%, as well as significantly decrease surgical complications and infections.
It doesn’t require fancy equipment or expensive drugs; meaning it can have as large of an impact in Dallas or Minneapolis as it does in Beijing or Nairobi or Toamasina. You can read more about the checklist Here.
The only piece of the Checklist that actually costs anything is the use of a pulse oximeter; so for this we have teamed up with Lifebox, an organization dedicated to ensuring every operating room in the world has this vital tool, to offer pulse oximeters where needed.
You might be thinking, “Well that sounds great and simple, just teach people how to use it!” – if only it was that easy.
The Mercy Ships Medical Capacity Building program has been working for years to try and figure out what it takes to successfully implement the Checklist in the local hospitals where we are serving.
Behavior change is hard; just because we know we should floss our teeth every day doesn’t mean we actually do it. Just because we know we should use a checklist before surgery doesn’t mean we actually do it.
We first experimented with some teaching in Guinea; expanded it in Congo, and this last field service in Madagascar we worked alongside the OR teams in Toamasina and Mahajanga to develop a practical, modified Checklist, tailored to the needs and requirements of the hospital.
This year we’ve expanded – from two cities to twenty! By empowering and inviting the OR teams themselves to develop their own checklist, we hope they will continue to use it long after Mercy Ships departs!
Through this simple checklist, we could see transformation of surgical care in this country and beyond.
Stay tuned for the Checklist Project part 2 – Madagascar!
– Krissy Close, Medical Capacity Building Manager AFM
In the meantime, here is an overview of the steps: