Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love, in all its forms. Love can break our hearts and make us feel whole, it is a universal language that fuels the Africa Mercy. By supporting Mercy Ships, you are making dark nights become sunny days for each of our patients, letting them know that they matter and are loved.
“Where there is love, there is no darkness” (African Proverb)
Your love gave baby Paul a future…
The first sight of 3-month-old Paul revealed a feather-light bundle cradled in his desperate mother’s arms. His skin was paper-thin and his body remarkably tiny. He weighed just over 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) – less than he had when he was first born.
The tiny baby was born with a cleft lip and palate that made it impossible for him to nurse properly. It was a mother’s worst nightmare – watching helplessly as her baby grew thinner and weaker. “I didn’t understand why it was happening or what I could do to help him. I couldn’t breastfeed him properly. No matter what we did, he kept losing weight,” said his mother, Francoise, her eyes reflecting her weariness and fear. “We were so scared … we thought he would die.”
Despite the precariousness of his situation, this mother’s love knew no bounds. The hungry baby cried all night, so Francoise stayed up, rocking her tiny baby through the long nights with only the company of a kerosene lamp.
Baby Paul, like his mama, was a fighter. The Africa Mercy’s medical staff immediately recognized that his condition was critical. They brought him onboard before the hospital was even officially opened, so that they could monitor his temperature and feed him through a nose-to-stomach tube.
“The problem when they’re that small and weak is that they find it really difficult to suck. We fed him with a syringe and eventually got him to a special bottle made for babies with cleft lip and palate,” said Lee-Anne Borrow James (AUS), Infant Feeding Program dietician.
It was touch-and-go for a few days, but then the courageous little boy began to turn the corner toward healing. Once he was considered safe to leave the hospital, the dieticians checked Paul regularly to track his growth, measure the size of his head, arms and legs, assess his feeding, and continue suggesting methods for healthy weight gain.
Gradually, as the weeks passed, baby Paul began to visibly change. His formerly gaunt face was replaced by round cheeks. His hair grew thick and healthy. His formerly listless eyes were now glowing and content.
Paul wasn’t the only one being transformed. Hope bloomed in Francoise’s heart as she watched her baby slowly growing stronger. She dared to hope that this baby that people had once called “monster” would survive … this baby that was now adored by crew members and other patients. She said, “When I look at my baby, I can only cry – but it is tears of joy. Even I am gaining weight, now that I can eat and sleep!”
“The dynamic between dietician, mother and infant is a special one to be a part of,” says Lee-Anne. Many mothers struggle with believing that their baby’s condition is not their fault, but is instead something that occurred naturally and can be fixed. It took time for Francoise to trust the affirming words of the Mercy Ships dietician team. “It’s been amazing to watch over time how she’s worked very hard for her baby. She’s quite determined. She fiercely knows what she wants and what she needs to do,” said Lee-Anne.
Three months later, weighing a whopping 6.4 kilograms (14.1 pounds), Paul was three times the baby he was when he first arrived. He was once again carried up the gangway – this time, for a cleft lip repair that would restore his future and reward his mother’s courageous hope.
Thank you for supporting our patients and bringing hope and healing to so many. Mercy Ships Canada is sending love to you today and all days.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” someone asked 12-year-old Ulrich.
“I want to be tall like my friends,” he answered with a smile.
Even experienced nurses onboard the Africa Mercy had never seen a case quite like Ulrich’s. He was born with dislocated knees and a condition known as Quadriceps Contracture—a condition in which the leg muscles don’t develop at the same rate as the bones, causing the legs to bend drastically backward.
His mother, Georgette, tried desperately to find Ulrich the surgery he needed. But the cost of surgery and the severity of his condition defeated her hopes. “Surgeons wouldn’t touch him,” Georgette recalls. “It was hard to see him hurting. When he hurts, I hurt.”
Despite constant stares and ridicule, Ulrich adapted to his condition. He learned to walk with sticks made from sturdy branches. He even learned to climb trees higher than any other boy in his village! “When they couldn’t reach the tallest papaya, they’d call me! I’d be able to get it,” said Ulrich.
But his determination to be like other boys took its toll. He developed pain in his hands and joints from supporting his body weight and from walking long distances. “I was worried that if I was feeling such pain now, it was only going to get worse as I got older,” he said.
It broke his heart that it was increasingly difficult for him to help his mother by helping out around the house, collecting firewood, and fetching water. “I was scared to grow up like that. I didn’t want this to be all my life was ever going to be.”
The day Ulrich arrived on the Africa Mercy for his free surgery, volunteer surgeon Dr. Frank Haydon, who has volunteered with Mercy Ships for eight years, was shocked. “He moved like an insect … like a cricket. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Just when I think I’ve seen the worst case in my career, I meet the next Ulrich, and it keeps me going.”
After several complex surgeries, Ulrich woke up with two straight legs in casts. He had a hard time believing they were actually his legs. The first time he stood up, he reached up to see if he could touch the ceiling. “The first time he walked, he went straight into his mother’s embrace. It was the first time he had been able to hug her since standing tall,” said volunteer nurse Kirsten Murphy.
And now, Ulrich is walking straight and tall into acceptance and into his dream of an education.
“Before, when I would walk in the street, people would stare at me. They thought I was just a handicapped person, and they treated me differently. Now, they will look again,” smiled Ulrich.
Before Ulrich left the Africa Mercy, he slowly walked up to Dr. Haydon and handed him a very special gift … his old walking sticks. He won’t need them anymore, thanks to mercy.
Written by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina
Photographs by Saul Loubassa Bighonda, Shawn Thompson and Marina Schmid
Ernest’s eyes speak of a pain and sorrow beyond his 27 years. A facial tumor had been growing for over a decade, and he spent his young adult years hiding from the world, simply waiting to die.
“I was making everyone uncomfortable, so I would just stay home in bed all day, alone with my suicidal thoughts,” he explains
When he heard about Mercy Ships, he knew he had nothing to lose. He said goodbye to his wife and five- year-old son and made the two-day journey alone.
“Many men from my village have tumors, but they were too scared to come to the ship. They told me I would die,” he said.
But he knew they were wrong … this was his only chance to save his life.
By the time Ernest arrived at the hospital ship, he was dangerously ill, and his tumor was bleeding. Mercy Ships doctors admitted him for a life-saving blood transfusion. A local ENT surgeon assisted with Ernest’s case.
When Ernest’s condition stabilized, he received what five billion people around the world are unable to access – safe, affordable and timely surgery. As Ernest recovered physically, he also recovered emotionally – changing from a withdrawn, sad man into a confident, optimistic man. His new outlook on life was reflected in the light in his eyes.
Volunteer nurse, Kirsten Murphy (USA) monitored him the first night he was admitted and witnessed his transformation.
“I remember his persistence. I remember his new-found hope. I remember the huge grin that spread across his face post-surgery when he realized he was handsome!”
Now, Ernest returns home to be the man he’s always longed to be – the husband he feels his wife deserves and the father he wants to model for his son.
“Before, life was very difficult for me. I can’t wait to go back to my village and show those who doubted that Mercy Ships has given me new life.”
After more than 10 years of carrying a physical and emotional burden, Ernest is free!
“When I came here, my life was already over. Now I have everything in front of me.”
Story by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Saul Loubassa Bighonda and Shawn Thompson
With her fluffy pink dress and shiny shoes, three-year-old Cecilia is an undisputed princess—and no one is prouder of this ray of sunshine than her father, Emmanuel. She’s brimming with delightful energy, and Emmanuel is always one step behind her, ready to help her in the right direction. But, until recently, Cecilia needed more help than most little girls.
“She smiles all of the time,” said Emmanuel, “but she needs help to walk.”
Her legs appeared normal at birth, but as she grew, one of her knees formed abnormally. She was diagnosed with knock knees—a condition that causes the knees to angle together, and makes it nearly impossible for the legs to stay straight. Over time, it can cause serious pain and impair walking. Cecilia’s parents watched their bright-eyed child grow from baby to toddler—and her knock knee continued to worsen.
Finally, Emmanuel brought his daughter to Mercy Ships in search of a miracle. They left behind Cecilia’s mother and baby brother in hopes that when they reunited, Cecilia’s legs would be straight and her future brighter.
On the dock, father and daughter sat together on a wooden bench together while the monsoon rain poured down. Their warm smiles didn’t betray their long journey or hours of waiting.
“I’m so thankful for Mercy Ships coming to serve my people, who are in need,” said Emmanuel.
The family spent over a year waiting for a surgery that took little over an hour on the Africa Mercy. It was a simple procedure that would have enormous effects on little Cecilia’s life.
Cecilia was a source of joy in the hospital wards, and it wasn’t long after her surgery before she bravely took her first steps with her miniature walker. The only one smiling bigger than her was Emmanuel, who said her future now looks “bright and full of possibilities.”
Cecilia’s recovery time onboard the ship was filled with laughter as she played with bubbles and had her nails painted by nurses. Six weeks after surgery, it was time for her cast to come off! Her rehabilitation helped her grow comfortable walking on her straightened leg. When the time came for Cecilia and Emmanuel to go home, the volunteer team sent them home with lively singing and dancing.
Now, Cecilia can step forward into a life of limitless opportunities. She may only be three years old, but Emmanuel is already dreaming big for his little girl.
“My dream for her is to grow up and become a doctor, so she can change people’s lives,” Emmanuel said. “Just like the doctors here have changed hers.”
Written by: Rose Talbot
Edited by: Karis Johnson
Photographs by: Shawn Thompson
With December 25th right around the corner, “Christmas Cards” are filling mailboxes around the globe. -So here is one from Cameroon!
We wish you could be here with us… to celebrate with Cameroonians whose lives are being touched… to see the ship beautifully arrayed with fun new decorations sent from many corners of the world…. to experience what it means to “Come and Adore Him” in so many languages, styles and traditions…
As we reflect on the words of Isaiah 9 and our theme for this Advent season, we rejoice in the miraculous gift of Jesus. Incarnation. He is with us. Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. The Prince of Peace.
It is an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Cameroon in His name. We are so grateful for the support of each Mercy Ships staff and board member, supporter, partner and alumnus over the past year. We take courage as we look ahead at 2018 with eyes of faith, inspired by the great faithfulness and nearness of the Lord to us in this 2017. God is Good All the Time. We rejoice and thank you for the gift of your love and support!
On behalf of the Africa Mercy Crew and the people of Cameroon, We Wish You A Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year!!!
-Warrie Barrie, Africa Mercy Managing Director