Living in constant shame, Marthe almost didn’t come to our screening because she was so embarrassed. She can’t clean herself without help, and her tumor constantly leaks fluid – she wraps herself in plastic to catch the drainage and keep herself dry.
After receiving a free surgery that removed her tumour, Marthe still seems to hold the weight of the burden she carried for so many years – volunteers have hardly seen her smile. She is now recovering in the Benin HOPE Centre, where she can receive the medical, emotional and spiritual care she needs to make a full recovery.
This Easter, Mercy Ships Canada is working to bring HOPE to more patients like Marthe. Together, we can give a gift to patients like her that we too were given at this time of year – the gift of restoration, resurrection and renewal.
In 2012 I was serving with Mercy Ships in Conakry, Guinea. The pace of life had just picked up with the arrival of Christina Fast, (I mentioned in my previous post that after visiting one hospital in Sierra Leone, Christina returned to Canada inspired to create her own NGO (Sterile Processing Educational Trust -SPECT).
Christina wished to visit the HOPE Centre. We sat for hours playing games with children and their caregivers. ‘Jenga’ is a huge hit there, and it is amazing to see how skilled the little ones are in getting the block tower to stay standing. Great excitement erupts when the tower falls. Some things are cross-cultural!
A young man there, who was an Albino, intrigued me. He had a wound on his forehead the size of the circumference of a large muffin paper. The sore was at least a ¼ of an inch deep- the result of Noma (a devastating infection). I watched as he knelt to pray in a small, quiet corner of the HOPE Centre.
As he touched his forehead to the floor in reverence, his wound touched the floor as well. It spoke deeply to me of his faith and dedication. I was surprised by how many Albinos I saw throughout my time there. They fare far better in West Africa, than in East Africa (where rumors of voodoo curses, murders and kidnappings for human organs abound).
Theirs is a difficult life – filled with rejection and chronic unemployment. I encountered Albinism three times in my time with Mercy Ships. In my early days of serving in Sierra Leone, I was traveling in a van, which was stopped in traffic.
A little boy came running up to the window where I was sitting, and grabbed my arm in joyful surprise. I could not understand what he was saying, but his Mother quickly explained that he was so excited to see me because I was like his Uncle. The Mother told me his Uncle was Albino.
The second encounter involved a group of us who were traveling on the weekend by boat- to a beach in Sierra Leone. On the way, we had to stop for gas at a marina. As the fuel tank was being filled, a woman ran towards my friends with a newborn baby in her arms, pleading desperately with them to take her child who was Albino. “She should be with you”, the Mother cried. I am puzzled and saddened by our world where too much or too little melanin- a simple pigment, creates so much prejudice and so many misunderstandings.
The HOPE centre was a place of peace for him, as it is for many of our patients, and I am reminded of how important this piece of the Mercy Ships puzzle is as Canadians continue to support the next HOPE centre in Cameroon. We are so grateful for this support!
Until next time, Jane
YOUR GIFT IS DOUBLED DURING THE MONTH OF APRIL!
Wait…he’s a surgeon, a researcher AND a former contestant on American Ninja Warrior? That’s right. Meet Mark Shrime.
This otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) heard about Mercy Ships back in 2006 through a friend of a friend. In-between fellowships, he decided to apply. “I was accepted, spent six months on the ship in Liberia and have been coming back ever since!”
Twice a year, Dr. Shrime presses “pause from his day job as Research Director for the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change at Harvard Medical School to meet up with the Africa Mercy – wherever it’s docked (currently Benin). “It’s honestly the two months out of the year that really center me. My career
has been about the delivery of surgery in low-income countries, most of it from a research and policy standpoint. To be here on the ground doing the things I’m writing about and talking about and studying – it really does remind me why I do what I do the rest of the time.”
So what does “the rest of the time” really look like? Part of it includes what Shrime refers to as “A beautiful collaborative effort”: the Lancet Commission on Global Surgery. In 2014, the Lancet, a UK-based medical journal, decided to look at the current state of surgery in low and middle-income countries and set goals for where it should be by 2030. “This team of commissioners, advisors, researchers, etc. (composed of people from 111 different countries), were united around a tenet that what the world deserves is universal access to safe, affordable surgical and anesthesia care, when needed. And those four things – availability, safety, affordability and timeliness – really define access to any health intervention, not just surgery.
It turns out that five billion people around the world don’t have that sort of access to surgery. There may be an operating room, but it might not be safe. There may be a safe operating room, but you might not be able to afford it or get to it in time. That is one of the difficulties of ‘fixing’ surgery in countries – you can’t fix surgery by simply building more operating rooms, or by simply training surgeons.
To fix surgery, you’ve got to fix everything – you’ve got to fix the electricity, the suction, the water, the training, the biomed technology, the infrastructure – it’s a really difficult thing to do, and it’s probably one of the reasons surgery hasn’t been focused on…but if you can do all that, fix all these things in a hospital, you’ve also fixed the electricity and the water and the suction and the sterilization in the hospital itself – and in theory, this is a good way then to scale up and fix an entire health system.” Wow. So is there any spare time outside of all this?
Apparently. When Shrime isn’t researching and performing surgery, he’s staying fit. Years ago, he got serious about health after realizing he wasn’t getting any slimmer (he has a sweet tooth). What started as a rock-climbing hobby morphed into a love for obstacle races. Suddenly, on a whim, he tried out for the TV show American Ninja Warrior – and was accepted! “I made it about half-way through the course, then lost my balance and fell. But those two minutes of the run were the most fun I’ve ever had!” Though his first round didn’t actually air on television, never fear – Shrime is working and training to reach a new goal…American Ninja Warrior’s national finals…he even finds creative ways to work out on the ship! Does one actually require ninja skills to survive on the Africa Mercy?
Not according to Shrime: “I love the people I work with – it’s not just a hospital – this is very much a family, a group of friends. We eat together, go out together, play games together – and then we’re also in the middle of the OR at 1:00 am in the morning working together.
It’s not your usual hospital…you don’t find this sort of camaraderie, this sort of brotherhood and sisterhood in a lot of places that I’ve worked. It feels very much like medicine – the way it’s supposed to be.” Sound interesting? You bet it is. And you might be the perfect fit for one of the many positions that help make the Africa Mercy ‘operate!’ Check out www.mercyships.org/volunteer/ to learn how to get started.
“David,” a name that means, “Dearly loved.” This boy and his mother sat under a white canopy, waiting to be called. The idea of help from this large hospital ship was becoming more and more promising…just a few more steps, nurses, forms to go. Nervous anticipation should have been tempered by exhaustion from their persistent efforts, but it wasn’t. The two waited patiently to hear the name…“David…”
Just a few weeks prior, Diane had brought her son – six days straight – to join the line of thousands at the Mercy Ships screening center. She returned each day, without fail, until they met with the medical crew. David’s case was something the ship could help with.
They received a “yes.” They were now one step closer to David becoming free of the tennis-ball-sized mass that began growing eight years ago when he was only four. Eight years is just too long for her boy to face so many stares, comments and rejection. Diane’s determination to help her “beloved” speaks louder than words, something he will most likely never forget.
Weeks after surgery…
“I am now a handsome boy,” says David, who is at home after spending less than a week on board the Africa Mercy. One free surgery and this boy is no longer an outcast.
You ARE handsome, David – on the inside and out. We’ll miss you – and so will the patients you encouraged with your contagious smile! We wish you a very bright future full of joy.
Support the HOPE centre project and give patients like David a place to stay before and after surgery, ensuring a full recovery.GIVE A GIFT TODAY
Five months prior to coming on board, Heather Bos had no idea Mercy Ships even existed. But her close friend and parents soon remedied that: all three knew that she’d be interested, given her easygoing nature, adventurous spirit, and love for people.
Her medical expertise was the icing on the cake, making Heather a natural fit. At home, Heather works as a Physical Therapy Assistant- a profession she loved immediately. Here on board she works as a Hospital Supply Assistant: she is in charge of making sure the hospital is well- stocked with all the necessities: from culture swabs and IV start packs to catheters and oxygen masks, if you name it, she’ll supply it.
Heather wakes up every morning here looking forward to going to work. “It’s different here [than at home], because everyone wants to be here. No one’s getting paid: everyone’s doing their job because they want to.” Heather loves the work culture too: “No one assumes the worst when you make a mistake – it’s incredible.” This is not only the first time that Heather has been to Africa, it’s also the first time she’s travelled alone. Surprisingly, transitioning to life on board has been a breeze.
For a lot of people, volunteering on a hospital ship in Africa might be enough of an adventure, but not for Heather. When she first heard about an opportunity to visit a local woman’s prison on an early Saturday morning, she showed up ready. “Definitely go,” she told another crew member after returning that afternoon.
Heather’s spirit of adventure is contagious. So what’s next? After she leaves the ship, Heather will continue work as a Physical Therapy Assistant in Canada. She loves the job and might go on to become a PT. As far as further involvement with Mercy Ships goes, it’s definitely on the horizon: “Seeing the community here made me think that I wish I could stay longer…I didn’t know I would feel this way.” She’s grateful for her time on board, and wants others to get to experience it for themselves. “I’d say do it! If you have the chance, do it!”VOLUNTEER TODAY