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.
An estimated 265,000 deaths every year are caused by burns – the vast majority occur in low-and middle-income countries. (Source: WHO) Burns are the 11th leading cause of death of children aged 1–9 years and are also the fifth most common cause of non-fatal childhood injuries.
Faith is a vivacious 3-year-old from Porto Novo, Benin. When she was 8-months-old an electrical fire burned the entire backs of her legs. Without access to safe and affordable surgery, Faith has only ever known life with severe burn wounds.
Faith’s mother Nadeej heard about Mercy Ships from multiple sources; an engineer, Faith’s doctor in Togo, and Faith’s godfather. Thanks to volunteer surgeons and the generosity of our partners, Faith received the free surgery she needed, but still has a lot of tough rehab work ahead of her.
We spoke with some kids in Canada recently about what had happened to Faith and many kids like her. In an effort to help, they are sending out a special Christmas message for Faith and other children awaiting surgery onboard the Africa Mercy.
Mary had endured years of her classmates’ taunting. “Bag face, bag face, bag face,” they shouted. A tumor covered her right eye, billowing over half her face. It made one side of her face droop down, and, as a result, Mary always looked sad. Day after day, the 14-year-old came home crying, tears trickling out from underneath her tumor. “Will this ever go away?” she wondered.
The tumor, a neurofibroma, had been growing for years. Such a tumor develops around the nerves and in rare cases reaches into the brain. The longer it is left untreated, the more dangerous it becomes.
The family took their daughter to doctor after doctor, only to hear the same answer, “No, we can’t help.” Days, months, and years slowly ticked by, and, steadily, Mary’s tumor continued to grow.
The family was preparing to take their daughter to Nigeria when they heard about Mercy Ships. At the end of a long, hot day, waiting in line at the Africa Mercy screening center, Mary received an appointment card. In a few weeks’ time she would see a surgeon who would decide for sure if her tumor was operable.
Mary waited for two more weeks. Her mother had decided it was best if her daughter remained at home until they had a more definitive answer. As the days wore on, Mary spent long afternoons playing by herself, quietly helping her mother with tailoring work, and anxiously awaiting her twin brother’s return from school every afternoon.
And then, the day finally came. Mary boarded a white Mercy Ships vehicle, entered the port, and finally looked at the ship for the first time. But she continued to wait – many patients had to be seen that day, and everyone waited by the dock.
Long into the afternoon, she sat, legs dangling, waiting for her name to be called. Finally, she and her mother were ushered into the medical tent. After years of waiting, they received wonderful news, “Yes, we’re happy to tell you…you’ll receive surgery – this week!” Mary’s mother beamed – she was delighted. As Mary glanced up, a hint of a smile crossed her face – a glimpse of hope after years of waiting.
Three days later, Mary went into surgery. Her mother sat quietly waiting, nodding her head as if in prayer. Hours later, Mary was wheeled back in with a thick bandage covering the right side of her face, where her tumor used to be.
But Mary continued to wait. The bandage wouldn’t be replaced with a smaller one for another two days. She had 48 hours before she would know for sure if her face was really tumor-free, if her “bag face” was now just a normal, healthy, 14-year-old girl’s face.
The time passed slowly. Mary colored, played games, and watched The Jungle Book. When the nurses finally came to replace the old bandage, Mary nervously fidgeted with a checker piece. Then a nurse put a mirror by the bed. Mary picked it up gingerly – a delicate and powerful object. She stared directly into the mirror, adjusted the angle and smiled … she was beautiful!
That night Mary spent hours in silent contemplation, just her and the mirror. She’d look away for a moment and then look back, checking to see if that really was her face. “Is the bag really gone?” she might have wondered. She’d look again. “Yes, really and truly … gone.”
Two weeks later, Mary again waited on the dock. She had been discharged and was back for her final appointment. Only a small x made of a few thin strips of tape remained to mark the spot where her tumor once was.
She sat in the back of the tent, a confident grin spreading over her face. “She’s like a different person now,” commented Lindsay McCurley, a nurse who took care of Mary in the wards. “It was amazing to see her transformation – the night before Mary left, she was dancing up a storm.”
And it’s true. Ever since her surgery, there’s a lightness in Mary – the burden has finally been lifted, and the wait is truly over.
Story by Anna Psiaki
This Christmas give someone the incredible gift of a restored life. Many patients will be waiting to have surgery or recovering from surgery onboard the Africa Mercy this Christmas with more patients walking up the gangway in the New Year.
Without your help, many people would continue to live a very hard life with a bleak future. However, we are so happy to be able to say that with such amazing support, one by one lives are changed and the futures of not only the individual but those connected to that individual will be changed.
For the month of December, your gift will be MATCHED, which means you will make twice the impact and help twice as many patients, patients like little Faith, who at just 3 years old, was badly burned when a candle fell and lit her bed on fire. Thankfully, Faith lived and because of donors and volunteers, Faith was admitted for surgery onboard the Africa Mercy in September and is now recovering from her surgery.
Give the gift of a transformed life this Christmas, and help patients like Faith get the help they need.DOUBLE YOUR GIFT TODAY!
Australian Harriet Gall could be considered “the hostess with the mostest,” as Harriet’s background unveils a woman with many talents. From primary school teacher to adult instructor, with passions in safety, outdoor skills and survival, this “hostess” can probably handle – or teach – almost anything.
At her usual day job back home in Australia, she’s the Aviation Safety Instructor for a major airline, educating pilots and aircraft crew in everything they need to know about emergency situations, including security, fires, depressurizations, survival, evacuation and more. So how did Harriet end up working in the hospitality department on a hospital ship in West Africa?
“My job back at home offers a three-month service leave after 10 years, so I was looking for something to do. When I saw the 60 Minutes Surgery Ship documentary about Mercy Ships, I thought, ‘That’s what I need to do!’ – and it all just fell together.” Harriet browsed through the broad range of job descriptions online – medical and non-medical, all with different lengths of service. She decided to do something a bit unrelated to her field of work, yet would still fit her personality well. “I love working with people, and I thought this would be a great job where I’d see a really diverse range of activities as well as people in the community on board the ship. I also wanted insight into all the different departments that make up the ship.” The hostess position required six months of service, so she applied, using the rest of her personal holiday time to make up the difference.
Teaching, one of Harriet’s many talents, still comes in handy as she orients new crew members: “I take pride in trying to make people feel welcome and immediately comfortable being on board the ship. A lot of people come from a long way…they’ve spent months if not years preparing to come on board. It can be a very emotional time, so I want them to fit in and feel comfortable as quickly as possible. If I can facilitate that for them, I think it’s a huge part of my role.”
With the majority of Harriet’s day-to-day focused on the crew, patient interactions still happen in other ways. During routine tours of the ship, she guides new crew through the hospital wards, a place where some of her fondest memories have been made. “During ship tours, we walk the length of ship, down past the hospital wards. More often than not there are young children, all bandaged up with different conditions, smiling and laughing. Most times, you get a big “Bonsoir!!” and a smile and a high five. That’s definitely the highlight of my day.”
What would Harriet say to someone thinking of signing up with Mercy Ships? “Don’t even think – just come – 100%!” She adds, “There are so many people here, serving out of love. Every single person on this ship is beautiful. They find the good in things, and everyone generally goes out of their way to help each other.”
And Harriet’s no different. Thank you Harriet, for sharing your remarkable self with every crew member you meet.