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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Obstetric Fistula Surgery Begins

Surgery began at the end of February for Mercy Ships obstetric fistula program. Obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury that leaves women incontinent and often makes them outcasts in their communities. Volunteer surgeon Dr. Itengre Ouedraogo has joined us in Pointe Noire, Congo to provide free surgeries to these women.  “We had another successful screening Wednesday with more operations scheduled.” Obstetric Fistula Team Leader Stephanie Fiduk says, “Dr. Itengre Ouedraogo is great to work with; he is patient, very astute, and great with the patients.  Overall I would say that there is an amazing peace surrounding the fistula program.  I’m looking forward to what God has for the next few weeks, and for more lives to change.” To learn more about Mercy Ships obstetric fistula program watch this video: http://youtu.be/lVYX_G5K_hY

Dr. Ouedraogo took some time out to be interviewed by our communications team:
You can easily point to his homeland of Burkina Faso on a map—but Dr. Ouedraogo prefers to call Africa his home. This pan-African obstetric surgeon received his medical and surgical education in Cuba. Soon after, he earned his Masters in Epidemiology and Humanitarian Aid.
So are we! But Dr. Ouedraogo gives all the glory to God: “The fact that I am a surgeon today is a divine grace of God’s—He has a specific goal for me.”
Dr. Ouedraogo has chosen to dedicate his life and skill to the forgotten and ostracized people of his beloved continent. He is currently ‘vacationing’ from his role as medical director of a fistula center in Niger so he can serve with us onboard in the Congo. Wherever he goes, Dr. Ouedraogo is working to provide life-changing surgery to women who have sustained traumatic childbirth injuries.

Tell us why you chose to serve with Mercy Ships.
Through Mercy Ship, the dignity of the outcast is rebuilt. Mercy Ships gives the opportunity to people from all nations to demonstrate their passion for the forgotten.  Yes, as an obstetric surgeon, maybe it’s true that I could get more money and popularity working in a big city and a big hospital. But every time I see a woman joyful because she is healed, I know I have contributed to the reintegration of an outcast into her society. I have helped rebuild a broken house. So, when Mercy Ships accepted my application this year to serve as fistula surgeon, I felt it was an honor. It is like I am adding my block to the building of the new Africa that Mercy Ships is helping to build.

In your own words, describe Africa.
I see Africa as a sleeping giant who needs to be awakened. Africa has great potential for development due to its natural and human resources. There is a popular saying in my tongue that says, “You cannot clean the flour on the floor with one hand.” I think what is needed in Africa is that other strong hand—which in my personal opinion is the developed world—to awaken him and wash his face so that the direction for real development can be found. Up ‘til now, Africa has been receiving so much help from the West— but truly, it is better to teach how to fish rather than giving the fish.

If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would say that maybe for the world we are one person, but for one person we are the world. We cannot change the entire world, but we can change the world of somebody. Let everybody seek and accomplish the purpose of God for his life, because mortals become immortal by the things they do and that remain after them.
It's great to have Dr. Ouedraogo working alongside us.
The women began arriving in Pointe Noire with the hope of receiving life changing surgeries to repair obstetric fistulas. Fistulas of this kind typically occur as a result of prolonged obstructed labor during child birth. While the surgeries can repair the physical damage, much care is taken in offering healing for the women’s spirits as well.  Please pray for the women who are traveling to the ship to receive surgery, that they may arrive safely and experience complete healing.

The hospital wards soon filled with dancing and singing in celebration of lives transformed.  Once healed each lady is given a new dress and we hold a dress ceremony to celebrate them being dry.  The celebration soon echo through the hallways of the Africa Mercy hospital. Women who were once living with the difficulties related to obstetric fistulas are now returning home - healed.
 Pray with us for the women to be embraced by their families and to find joy in the new beginning.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Crew Focus - Photographer

Meet Ruben, one of our photographers, I do enjoy his photo's, he captures life around us really well.  You can check his blog out to see more of his pictures at http://www.rubenenmirjam.nl/blog/
Meet our rock-star photographer, Ruben Plomp. Hailing from the orange kingdom of The Netherlands, this groovy Dutchman spends his days innovating brilliant pranks, french-pressing coffee, eating salt licorice (what?!), oh, and capturing the stories of Mercy Ships through his camera lens. They say a picture says a thousand words, and Ruben’s photographs have plenty to say. Ruben is a professional photographer with a background in Adult ICU Nursing and a keen eye for the aesthetic. He brings a whole lot of wonderful to the communications team and the Africa Mercy.

Why did you volunteer with Mercy Ships?
What first seemed to be an 8-month adventure for me and my wife is now a mission for our lives, driven by our hearts’ desire to serve the people of Africa—to help those who are neglected, unseen and have no access to healthcare. We want to share our love with them and show them that we care for a reason. 

Tell us one of your tricks of the trade.
A week ago, I took a picture of an older man standing on the dock. I just looked through my camera and stood there waiting for the picture that I wanted. If you wait long enough, there is always a special moment — it’s the moment when the subject doesn’t pretend anymore. It’s a brief window in which the person in front of the camera goes from being uncertain to feeling comfortable. It’s like sunset, you only have so long to capture that moment when a person reveals the soul beneath. It’s a challenge to capture that. That specific day, it worked. It was like his eyes were talking to me.

What inspires you?
Truth inspires me. Finding truth in people, landscapes and random situations is a sign to me that God has blessed me with an eye for His creativity. Bottom line, God inspires me. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Eye Patients Come and Go

 Dreige and Eddy met a few months ago at the eye clinic, where each of these teens had come to have his vision restored through free cataract removal. The boys became fast friends as they healed together after surgery. When they were recently reunited, Dreige looked over Eddy's shoulder as he flipped through photos on his mom's camera, and the two would point and comment and fall into fits of laughter. The act was simple: sharing photos and laughing. The miracle behind it was amazing - the gift of vision restored to two young friends, now able to do something as simple as look at a photo and laugh. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

General Surgery Patients Come and Go

Caring for an ill child or parent is never an easy task. Illness can take a toll on the whole family. Many of the patients who come to the Africa Mercy are accompanied by a care giver to help them through the healing process.
Claire came to the Africa Mercy so that she could have free surgery to remove a goiter. Her daughter, Olga, faithfully cared for her in the ship’s hospital during her recovery. Now, Olga and Claire have returned home, where both mother and daughter are filled with renewed hope. “I am so overwhelmed with joy,” Olga said. “The first day we came to meet Mercy Ships, we didn’t know what the outcome would be. Right now, I want to say a big thank you to Mercy Ships and all the doctors and nurses who changed my mother’s life. I never thought my mother would have this surgery. She had this condition for [28] years. I’m very, very happy.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Orthopedic Patients Come and Go

 No more bowed legs over here! 
After almost three months since her surgery, 3 year old Celestine was discharged. She is now on her way back to her home in Congo’s interior. While we are always happy to see our littlest patients walk away on straight legs, we also kind of wish they could stay and play some more.
 Ravette’s casts are gone! As always, there was an enormous smile on her face. She couldn’t stop admiring her legs and their new shape. Knowing Ravette, she has big plans for where these legs will take her. Watch out world – she’s unstoppable now.
Codjo is one of the children who had surgery to straighten his legs on the Africa Mercy. Today, Codjo is standing tall and ready to play at the HOPE Center. Nothing can slow this child down!
One of our orthopedic patients, Jodelle, was happily discharged from the hospital. and made their way back to their home in Congo’s interior. We are so thankful for the improved movement we saw in Jodelle’s legs in the last few weeks. We pray that Jodelle returns to her family with the love that she has seen onboard the ship. We are grateful for another sweet patient healed in Congo!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cleft Lip/Palate Patients Come and Go

We also had some cleft lip and palate surgeries.
Cleft palate patient Reine went home for good with a smile! 
Ask her to show you her fixed palate and she will gladly do so.
Siara is a 15-month-old refugee from the Central African Republic. CAR shares a border with Congo-Brazzaville, the country we are currently serving.
Siara was brought to Mercy Ships with the hope that we could provide surgery to repair her cleft lip. Because Siara was underweight, Mercy Ships medical team had to put her on a special diet. Now she is almost too big for the scale!

Things are going well, but Siara still has a little more weight to gain before she is healthy enough for surgery. Please keep her in your prayers.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Crew Focus - Our Hairdresser

Occasionally our Communications team will feature a write up on one of our crew members so we thought we'd share them so you can get to know some of the amazing people we serve alongside.  Some jobs you might not even know that we needed, for example today we focus on our hairdresser.  
Meet Jasmine Bursey, our beloved hair stylist. 
Jasmine is always busy at her work—after all, providing cuts, trims, dyes and styles to the 400 strong  Africa Mercy crew is no simple task. Jasmine pulls it off with flair, and we all have her to thank for our many good hair days.

Describe yourself and what brought you to Mercy Ships?

 “I am from Canada and will be heading back to the Great White North this spring. I have been working in salons for 7 years, and I am most passionate about wedding styling. I came to Mercy Ships because I was at a point in life where I needed to be involved in something bigger than myself. This is a place where patients find healing as well as the crew and everyone who visits. The biggest lesson I’ve learned here is how to view others and myself in the way God views us. When you begin to look at people through God’s eyes, you see true beauty in everyone. Beauty comes from within and beautiful moments can be found everywhere.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Here on the Africa Mercy, we are quite proficient in the language of smiles. When local languages like Kituba and Lingala aren’t your strongpoints—the smile remains your most genuine form of communication. Benjamine, a 12-year old from Congo’s interior, speaks this language with beautiful fluency. When crew first met her at the secondary plastics screening, they were taken away with her ability to push through such severe burn contractures to send us the most heartfelt smile we could imagine.  
Benjamine was able to receive a free, life-changing surgery onboard the Africa Mercy. Her operation included multiple upper-body and facial burn contracture releases and a sizeable skin graft.   Burn scars covered so much of her body that our surgeon, Dr. Tertius Venter, had to release five locations of her skin at the same time – both elbows, both armpits, and the skin around her neck and mouth. On top of that Dr. Venter had to take large portions of the skin from both of her thighs to graft onto her neck and arms, leaving Benjamine with seven different wounds to heal.

One day she was sitting at the foot of her bed laughing and even singing to a nurse’s guitar, but she has her on-and-off days. She was in a lot of pain; and her recovery would be a long one.   Needless to say, Benjamine needed our prayers and support more than ever as she made her journey through the pain and into a complete restoration
 She still slept a lot, but slowly regained her energy. During the day she did a good job of getting up and moving around – especially when there were bubbles involved.  
 Sweet Benjamine was on the wards of the Africa Mercy for more than two months. 
It was a long road of healing, however, she has pressed through the pain and kept up with her exercises to rehabilitate those newly freed muscles and joints. During her stay she received a lot of love and she gave us back more love and laughter than we know what to do with.
After 3 months having been through screening, surgery, rehab, dressing changes, games of hide-and-seek, hugs, laughter, and pain, one thing never changed – the smile on her face. On a beautifully bittersweet Monday some of the medical staff threw her a farewell party before she left the ship - these are some of their hugs. Now the Africa Mercy is a bit dimmer without Benjamine's sweet smile lighting up the hallways, but we're happy knowing Benjamine is off brightening someone's day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Plastics Patients Come and Go

Whilst we were away the 2nd round of plastic surgery went on. Watching our plastics patients heal after surgery is an incredible testament to the healing powers of the human body.  The debilitating contractures that our volunteer surgeon Dr. Tertius Venter operates on are often caused by fire. When burn wounds are left untreated, the skin stretches and heals itself in the only way that it can after a trauma.  For many of our plastics patients, restoring function and appearance means restoring life.

Dr. Tertius Venter, explains how we change lives with plastic surgery: 
"In Plastic Surgery, the word 'plastic' comes from the word "plastiki". It's a Greek word which means to re-mold, or to form, and that is what we do. A majority of the work we do on the ship is restoring function after burn injuries and burn contractures. Our main purpose through Mercy Ships Plastics Surgery Program, is to get people's function back so they can function normally in their societies."
B Ward became chock full of plastic patients who were in various stages of the healing process.  Above is Chadrac, post-op!  He was one of our cutest plastics patients. He had surgery to release burn contractures on his hands.   He is coming along well in his rehabilitation exercises!  His skin grafts are healing and we are continuing to treat them.  An important element of his recovery is his exercise regime so he can regain the use of his wrists which involves stacking Jenga blocks.  
When he is all healed up, Chadrac has one goal: go to school.
Jordis, 8, waits in B Ward with his mom and sister before going into surgery. Jordis needed plastic surgery to correct his deformed left foot. Jordis hoping for a speedy recovery so that pretty soon he can be on the soccer field.
Accidents happen all over the world, but in developing countries, healthcare is not easily accessible. In Congo, an untreated burn can leave victims immobilized. Let one of our patients tell you in his own words:

"I am Anselme, I am 63 years old. In 2009 I was in an accident, hot water from a car radiator burned my arm. That is what paralyzed and deformed my arm. I cannot shift a gearstick and drive. I want to be able to drive a car again. That is what brought me here, so that they can heal my arm."
Here is the group of nurses that supported Dr. Tertius and care for all our patients.

In Congo so far we've completed 199 plastics surgeries on 172 different patients and followed up with over 2,500 services including dressing changes, wound care and rehabilitation exercises. We're grateful for our amazing plastics surgery team and all of their hard work in Congo!

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Here's some of the training that Mercy Ships has been involved with whilst we've been away:

Neonatal Resuscitation Training

In January, Krissy Close (USA), our Hospital Projects Manager, received a request from Dr. Malonga, the Chief of Neonatology at Adolphe SICÉ General Hospital. His department’s neonatal resuscitation techniques were outdated and proving ineffectual in saving the lives of newborn infants in crisis, and he knew Mercy Ships could help. 
Fortunately, Hannah Giboney (USA), a volunteer nurse who has both the education and years of practice necessary to offer such a class, stepped up to the plate. Hannah recruited Lizzie Chitty (UK) and Hannah Wysong (USA) to help her conduct this class during their off-shift hours. She also pooled her resources together to receive several crucial donations, most importantly the Helping Babies Breathe kits, from Laerdal: “These kits consist of a brilliantly designed, life-like infant doll as well as breathing masks, stethoscopes, and mock syringes,” explains Hannah G. “The dolls are filled with water to give them weight. A pump is attached to make it seem like the baby is breathing and to give the baby a ‘pulse’ that can be checked through the umbilical cord or by stethoscope. A chest compression will result in a click if it placed correctly. This doll is an amazing tool for practice.”
 The team planned a two-day class consisting of a lengthy lecture, in-depth homework, and the putting material into practice with the Laerdal dolls. They encouraged the Congolese midwives to use the principles they had learned to react to real-time variables that they would throw into the scenarios. It was encouraging to see the students begin to move with confidence and practice by the end of the class. “My hope is that the outcome on babies born here becomes much, much better,” says Hannah, “if they can remember the basic principles from this course, it will make a huge difference in lives saved.” Lives will be saved, families will be grateful, new mothers will leave the ward with smiles on their faces… it is incredible what can be accomplished in one’s spare time!
 It makes watching a movie pale in comparison…

OR Sterilization Training

OR Sterilization Trainer Christina Fast (CAN) has been hard at work in the local hospitals in Congo, providing valuable resources to OR Sterilizers. Through classroom and hands-on training, she decreases the risk of infection after surgical procedures and builds capacity in Congo’s healthcare system.
“It’s encouraging to see that they are implementing the things we have taught them in class,” Christina says.
At home in Canada, Christina runs a non-profit called Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust (www.spectrust.org). 

Leadership Training

Mercy Ships goes beyond just providing free surgeries in the Republic of Congo – this week Mercy Ships crew members, in collaboration with Chris Ampadu of Samaritan Strategies, hosted a leadership conference for over 400 community leaders from the Dolisie region. Chris Ampadu spoke on community assessment, foundations of a community, poverty, how to be agents of change, and on seed projects.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Massive Lipoma Removed

Jean Bosco is a farmer. Just north of Congo’s capital city of Brazzaville, fields bear the mark of his honest labor – hectares of cassava, gardens of blooming eggplant and tomato, and lime and mango trees providing welcoming shade from the African sun.
Jean and his wife, Carine, worked hard to enjoy life with their six children. They enjoyed simple prosperity and stability . . . until a mysterious growth appeared on Jean’s back in 2003. What Jean calls his maladie was, in fact, a lipoma – a benign, soft-tissue tumor composed of body fat. Left untreated, a lipoma can reach giant proportions.
Jean explains:  “When my malady started, it was barely noticeable. But after three years, it began to rise from my shoulders. I became afraid; if I were to die, my family would suffer greatly,” Jean said.
Driven by concern for the well-being of his wife and children, Jean saved enough money for a hospital visit in 2009. But the appointments, bloodwork, and medicine quickly emptied his pockets, and he had to return home without surgery.
Nevertheless, Jean refused to give up. Day after day, he worked to save more money, desperately hoping for healing. Exhausted by the shifting, heavy growth, his work suffered and his fields’ productivity decreased. His family now found itself in dire straits. “At that time,” Jean says, “I abandoned myself to prayer that God would help me.”
Help arrived in God’s creative, unusual way. In 2013, Jean’s lipoma ruptured and began to bleed. He had no choice but to seek emergency medical care in Brazzaville. He found himself once again on the doorstep of surgery but without the means to pay for it. While in the city, he learned of a hospital ship docked in the Congo. “Go to Mercy Ships,” a friend told him. “The surgeons will help you for free.” Jean was amazed, and he wasted no time in traveling to the coastal city of Pointe Noire.
By the time Jean boarded the Africa Mercy, the watermelon-shaped lipoma protruding from his back weighed 20 pounds! Even in extreme cases, a lipoma usually reaches only 8 to 11 pounds. Under the expert hands of South African volunteer Dr. Tertius Venter, the massive lipoma was removed in a two-hour surgery.
A few days later, resting comfortably on his back in his hospital bed, Jean grinned and said, “My doctor thinks I’m a machine! I am too happy to feel pain. It has been ten years since I could rest on my back.”
Jean is overjoyed with the gift of health he has received from Mercy Ships. “What could I give Mercy Ships in return?” he asks. “What am I to say to God for what He has done for me? This ship goes beyond. This ship is in God’s truth. All I can give is ‘thank you.’”
Now, Jean Bosco – a farmer, a father, and a husband – can return to his family . . . without his terrible burden. His easy smile lights up as he envisions his homecoming. “Imagine your favourite fútbol team has just won the World Cup,” he says, “…that is exactly how my family is celebrating as we speak. There is a very perfect joy that is waiting for me and mine when I get home.
 Jean’s smile and easygoing nature reflect a satisfaction with his life’s work and his faith. Now, with the free gift of surgery, he will be better able to care for his farm and his family.

The day of Jean’s surgery has arrived. “Since 2003, while I had this tumor, I could not lie down or sleep on my back, ever.” He is eager for that to change.

The watermelon-shaped lipoma growing from Jean’s back weighed an amazing 20 pounds! The majority of extreme lipoma cases typically reach 8 to 11 pounds.

 “Because it was so big, it always bothered me. I could not work hard, as it would exhaust me too quickly. I have always been good at keeping the welfare of my family in equilibrium, but my malady made our lives very difficult,” Jean says.

 Jean’s surgery and healing has been miraculously swift, and  Jean is eager to get home: “My family is so excited to see me now. There is a very perfect joy that is waiting for me and mine at home,” Jean says in an interview on his last day in the hospital.

Would you look at those shoulder blades! Jean descends the gangway of the Africa Mercy with a grateful and triumphant spirit. “When I look at Mercy Ships, I feel the presence of God,” Jean says. “Those who can support Mercy Ships do not have to hesitate. This place is so wonderful, so in truth. Thank you, Mercy Ships.”

Clem, the Communications Team Translator, spends some time with Jean before he leaves. The two Congolese formed a great friendship while Jean was onboard the Africa Mercy.

“When I arrived in Pointe Noire a few weeks ago, I crossed paths with a policeman on the street. He took one look at my back and asked me where I was headed. I told him, ’to the Mercy Ships.’ He smiled and told me, ‘You are in good hands there, my friend.’”  Today, as a healed Jean leaves the hospital, it is plain to see that the policeman was right.

Story by our Communications Team"
Written by Grace Antonini
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Ruben Plomp and Michelle Murrey

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Where Have We Been

We're finally back in action after a computer fix and trips homes to our separate countries for training and surgery (more later).   So, as you will see we have a lot of catching up to do with our news.  Christmas, as always, was a special time on board as we celebrate the birth of our christ.  They really try and make it like home and include many different things you would do at home.  You can watch this video to capture the highlights.

Last September/October Sharon had been experiencing stomach pains and was very limited in the things she could eat, dinners were dry with no gravy, fried foods, anything with sauce, tomatoes and spicy foods were all out.  So after an ultrasound scan in the local hospital in December it was found that she had a gall stone measuring about 2cm.  Fortunately our doctors surgery at home were very helpful and got her an appointment at the beginning of February to see the consultant and a few weeks later she had surgery to remove her gall bladder and her now 3cm stone.  It was quite a straight forward procedure by keyhole surgery and she has healed well.

The academy on board were really helpful and provided lessons to take with us so Nathanael could continue with his school work and also a daily journal which has been a nice memory for him.

Meanwhile Tim needed to renew his captains license (yes, it's been 5 years since the last renewal!).  Unfortunately there wasn't a relief available before December and so his trip to the USA coincided with Sharon's surgery so we were a far flung family for a couple of months.  As of now he is still waiting but it is currently being processed by the USA.

Now we are back on board having met up at the gate at Charles de Gaulle Airport, just enough time for hugs and ask Air France to change our seats so we could sit together, which they could, and board the plane bound for Point Noire, Republic of Congo!  Thanks for the prayers!

Now we look towards a busy time as we start the pack up for our departure in a few months as we head for another dry dock period then onto Guinea for our next field of service.

Over the next few posts we'll give you a snippet of what's been happening here whilst we've been away.