Larry and Sandy Hewitt have been serving onboard the Africa Mercy since 2015. Larry works as the ship’s biomedical technician and Sandy is one of the hospital’s pharmacists. After going on mission trips to Kenya where they worked in orphanages in the slums, Larry and Sandy decided they were ready to serve those in need full-time. They left their home behind in Prince George, British Columbia and moved into a cabin on board the Africa Mercy for four years (and counting).
The Hewitt’s are long-term Canadian crew and we’d love for you to get to know them!
Where have the Hewitt’s served?
2018- 2019 Guinea
Q&A’s with Larry and Sandy
MSCA: What duties do you have?
Larry: Repair and maintenance of all hospital equipment (including X-ray, Ultrasound, and CT Scanner), as well as equipment in off-site dental clinic and eye clinic. Responsible for the procurement and testing of new equipment. Also responsible for organizing medical equipment donation to countries in Africa.
Sandy: Supervise a team of 3 pharmacists who provide medications to hospital wards, Operating Rooms, off-site clinics (dental and eye clinics). Pharmacists fill prescriptions for hospital patients, outpatients and crew; counsel patients on proper use of prescriptions, drug interactions, and side-effects; and recommend over the counter medications for crew. The senior pharmacist also keeps track of inventory and coordinates with International Support Center in Texas to order medications from the USA and from Europe. I also coordinate with the Ministry of Health Directorate of Pharmacy to keep valid import licenses for medications and for controlled drugs. Reviews applications and selects Pharmacists for the next field service.
MSCA: How did you feel when you first arrived onboard the Africa Mercy? How do you feel now?
Larry and Sandy: We were excited to start a new life really. New home, new friends, new jobs unlike what we had ever had at home. We were looking forward to serving with people who had a common purpose. We still feel this way. It is not new anymore as we have already been here three years but we still feel privileged to serve aboard the Africa Mercy with others who are passionate to offer hope and healing to the underprivileged in Africa.
MSCA: What gives you joy? Did you experience any difficulties?
Larry and Sandy: Seeing patients before and then after their surgeries, when all of the healing begins and they are full of joy themselves is a wonderful feeling. Sometimes the hours are long and because we live and work in the same place, it can be hard to keep good boundaries. Medications do not always arrive when they should and we have to get creative. Worldwide medications shortages, hurricanes, customs, port authorities, and courier difficulties all play a factor in whether we have the medications we need when we need them.
MSCA: What was one of the best things about living onboard, and the most challenging?
Larry and Sandy: The answer to both of these questions is living in community with those that you work with. It is both an amazing experience where you are living with your new extended family as well as sometimes it’s too close and you just need a little personal space.
MSCA: Has your time with Mercy Ships impacted your career or future career decisions?
Sandy: I feel like I have a much broader knowledge of hospital pharmacy than I once did and I would now gravitate toward pharmacy practise with the underprivileged at home.
Larry: Before I came to Mercy Ships I was working with Diagnostic Imaging Equipment (x-ray, CT, Ultrasound) only. I now work with all types of hospital equipment which opens up a lot more career possibilities.
MSCA: Can you share a particular moving/memorable story from your service with us?
Sandy: I was on rounds with the surgeons one morning when a patient who had ankylosis of the jaw had his bandages taken off from his surgery. He opened his mouth for the first time in 18 years and he raised his arms in the air and thanked God with tears streaming down his face for about 30 minutes. There wasn’t a dry eye in the ward!
Larry: My co-worker, Emmanuel, and I had to fix a phacoemulsification unit (used for eye surgery) that was not working. It was not a difficult fix as all that needed to be done was that it had to be powered completely down and then turned on again. It was time critical though, as the patient’s intraocular pressure (pressure in the eye) had dropped to a point where surgery could be done. The pressure had been too high before and was increasing again just when they wanted to start the surgery. The surgery was done because we got the machine working. What I didn’t realize until the next day was that the patient would have lost his sight if the surgery was not done. The ophthalmic surgeon came up to Emmanuel and I the next day to thank us and to say that we had saved that man’s eyesight. Amazing!
MSCA: What advice would you give to new volunteers preparing to leave for the Africa Mercy?
Larry and Sandy: Engage with the community of crew aboard the ship and you will make friends from all over the world. Engage with the patients on the wards whether you work in the hospital or not. There are opportunities to do that and you will be thankful that you did. When you are having a discouraging day, going to a patient celebration like a sight ceremony or a ladies’ dress ceremony where we celebrate patients’ healing and they give their own testimony. It will remind you why you are here and you will leave with your heart full.
MSCA: What is one of your favorite quotes that gives you strength?
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.” C. S. Lewis
The Hewitt’s not only help onboard the Africa Mercy, but also play a big part in raising awareness for Mercy Ships in Canada. Sandy has contributed multiple blog posts for PharmacyU and Larry helped Mercy Ships Canada show donors what they funded in Cameroon – by touring the newly renovated HOPE Centre.