Posted by: nhwaechters | April 20, 2017

Pressure Cooker of a Day….from Tom

One of the things that I love about Mercy Ships is that they not only try to meet the immediate needs of our patients by offering lifesaving surgeries free of charge, but they are very committed to changing the health care capabilities of the nations where we serve.  It is known as our Capacity Building Program and it takes on many, many shapes.  It includes training and mentoring of health care workers and technicians as well as providing the tools that are needed to help them serve their people better in the future.

All too often, one of the sad realities of these types of programs is that the tools and equipment are provided, but the training to operate and maintain the equipment is not.  There are far too many stories of state of the art medical equipment sitting unused and abandoned because there are no spare parts or personnel have not been trained on how to keep it running.  Another challenge is that oftentimes the rural settings of the clinics and hospitals in the third world lack the reliable electric power required to keep the equipment operating.

I say all that as background to why the Sterilization Project is one of my favorite capacity building projects that Mercy Ships participates in providing.  Conceptually, it’s really very simple.  The goal is to train health care workers about the importance of proper sterilization procedures and provide them the means to sterilize their surgical tools and instruments in their rural and/or third world settings.  At the end of the training, they are given either a gas or electric pressure cooker, extra gaskets and a stainless steel basket to hold the instruments while they are being sterilized.  The training and pressure cookers are provided by a foundation in Canada that primarily consists of a husband and wife and their daughter — all truly amazing people.

Sterilization class participants

Successful class participants and instructors after completing the training

New Pressure Cooker and Basket with Surgical Tools

My small part in all of this came about last Wednesday.  Fifty seven pressure cookers were supposed to have arrived in Benin a month earlier but were delayed.  Then they were supposed to be here the week before last week’s training was offered to health care workers from thirty rural clinics and hospitals.  That never happened either.  The training was at a remote location, over two hours’ drive from the ship.  The training was last Monday through Wednesday with the intent that each participant would be presented a new sterilizing pressure cooker after successfully completing their training.  By Wednesday morning, we still weren’t sure if the pressure cookers had arrived and were delayed in Customs or if they were still coming but not in country yet.  I had promised Dan, who was providing the training and the pressure cookers, that if they became available, we would get them to his training site.

At 0900, I was told that the pressure cookers had not even arrived in the country yet.  At 0930, I received an e-mail notifying me that the pressure cookers were in Customs but would not be released until at least Thursday or Friday.  At 1030, I got a call that they had cleared Customs and we could go get them.  By 1100, we were at the Customs office with two vehicles but were told that we could not take the thirty we needed but that we had to take all 58 boxes or none at all.  Fortunately, after being in Africa all this time, I had learned how many boxes fit on a truck — “Always one more”.

Pressure cooker loading

“Always room for One More” — although I am not sure we would have been able to pull it off if we had 59 boxes instead of the 58 that arrived.

In record time, we loaded the 58 boxes, hauled them back to the ship, unloaded and reloaded them and they were on their way to the training site.  Over two hours later, they all safely arrived less than 30 minutes before the end of the training and all of the participants received their promised pressure cooker.  Years from now, effective sterilization of surgical instruments in remote hospitals and clinics in Benin will be continuing thanks to this simple but effective project.  It was great to be able to play just a small part in making it happen.

Pressure cooker distribution

Twenty minutes before the end of class on the final day, the Pressure cookers arrived at the Training site and distribution began

A very happy recipient and loading up a Pressure Cooker for the trip home

Posted by: nhwaechters | April 19, 2017

Starting all Over Again as We Finish Up…from Tom

We still have four weeks of surgeries left to go in Benin before we pack up and sail to the shipyard for our annual maintenance visit, but the end this field service is in sight and we are slowly finishing up our work here.  It has been a long but fruitful time.  The Ortho patients (deformed legs) were done first due to the extended healing and rehab associated with their surgeries.  A couple of weeks ago, we finished the women’s health (fistulas mostly) surgeries and we had the final “Dress Ceremony” for the last of these patients to celebrate their new life being dry (not constantly leaking urine).  Our Eye Program is wrapping up as well and the final “Celebration of Sight” was held the day after Easter, with lots of joy and stories from the patients about how regaining their sight after being blind is totally changing their lives.  Our Ponseti Program (Club Feet) has said good-bye to the last of their patients and care-givers.  The only surgeries that will continue into May are the General Surgeries (hernias, etc…) and the Max Facs surgeries (facial tumors).

After the surgeries are complete, we will have a very busy pack up period to make the ship ready for sea.  In early June, we will sail to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands for a maintenance period (during which Ann-Marie and I will be going home to reconnect with family and friends and take a much needed break) and then we will sail from Las Palmas to Cameroon for our next field service which begins in August.

But even with the end of the field service in Benin coming to a close, preparations are well underway to get us off to a good start in Cameroon.  The buildings that will be used for our Dental, Eye and OBF (Women’s Health) clinics as well as the Outpatient housing facility (Hope Center) are currently undergoing extensive renovations.  The Screening process, which will identify and select potential patients in Cameroon prior to the ship’s arrival, has started with specially trained native health care workers traveling throughout the country to find our patients.  This initial stage of screening will continue from now until the middle of May.  Below is what one of our screening posters looks like.

Screening Poster French

Cameroon is going to be a lot of work, with very challenging goals for all of the programs and surgeries that we offer.  In most instances, we will be trying to accomplish more than ever before as we work to serve the people of Cameroon and meet their needs.  We cannot do everything, but with God’s help we can do something and do it to the best of our abilities.  We covet your prayers that we would be able to finish strong in Benin and serve Him well as Mercy Ships ventures into the country of Cameroon for the first time ever.

Posted by: nhwaechters | February 26, 2017

“A Time to Celebrate”…..from Tom

In the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, it says “There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven —- A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.”

If you ever want to see people really laugh, dance and celebrate, you need to first find someone who truly has something to celebrate.  This blog post will be mostly pictures, sharing some of the celebrations we have been having in Benin.  The Ponseti Dance ceremony was a celebration for the babies who had club feet who now have straight feet, the Celebration of Sight was for the first 50 patients who had their eyesight restored by free cataract surgery (the ship has actually done over 300 of these surgeries to date in Benin) and the Ortho kids (perhaps my favorite patients) are the kids who suffered from disfigured legs that have been straightened by a free surgery.  Enjoy the pictures — and I invite you to pause, reflect and celebrate the lives that have been transformed for these people.

A true celebration — our first Eye program patients, some of whom had been blind for nearly 40 years, celebrated regaining their sight.

Maurinho’s smile tells of a healing much deeper than just the straightened legs.

More of our ortho patients, pre-op…

©2016 Mercy Ships

Even though there is a lot of work ahead as they learn to walk again, this is one happy group of kids, post-op…..

Our Ponseti program corrects club feet in some of our youngest patients…

And the “Dance Ceremony” at the end of their treatment is a true Celebration (especially for the parents…..)

Each of our patients have an amazing story to tell.  Yet for each of them, no matter how dramatic the surgery, their transformation began when they were first were accepted and valued by our crew and loved unconditionally despite their need or deformity.  By experiencing the love of God expressed through our nurses, doctors and crew, the inner healing of their souls began.  You can see it in their eyes, in their smiles and in their countenances.  This inner healing is the true miracle of Mercy Ships.

Posted by: nhwaechters | February 12, 2017

By the Numbers….from Tom

For all of you Statisticians out there, I thought I would share the attached file that lists all that the Africa Mercy has done since our arrival in Benin last August.  The various categories may be a bit confusing, but I think the charts, numbers and graphs are pretty self-explanatory.  Before you get lost in trying to understand all of the data, I would like to remind you (and me) that each of the numbers on the attached chart has a person’s name that goes with it and each of those people have a story.

One of the hardest things about working on our ship is the number of people who come desperately seeking help that we have to turn away for any one of a number of very valid reasons.  Perhaps they are terminal, or have a condition that we are not equipped to deal with, or we have already filled all of the surgical slots for the type of surgery that they need and we do not have the time left in the field service to add more surgeries of that type.  Having to turn away so many is heart wrenching, knowing that for some we may be their last, best hope for survival.  As hard as it is to say “No, I am sorry, we cannot help you…” to so many, it’s important to realize that we are not called to help everyone.  We are called to be faithful, doing the best we can, using what we have and trusting God to use us and the difference we are trying to make to impact individuals and the nation of Benin.  There is something tremendously freeing in that realization which enables us to help those we can, in the most excellent way that we can.

The statistics show the hard part, with over 75% of the people who come seeking help being turned away.  But they also tell other stories, the stories of those we are able to help, whose lives are forever changed as a result of the work of the ship.  Their individual stories may vary, but a common thread is that each of these people has obtained hope and healing for whatever was defining and probably ruining their lives.  Each of those numbers represent a life that has been transformed.  It may have been a crippling deformity of their legs that made them lame or blindness due to cataracts or a tumor that was growing and perhaps gradually cutting off their airway and slowly killing them.  To date, since our arrival in August, the ship has done over 900 surgeries and treated over 4000 Dental patients with a whole lot more to be done in the coming months before we sail in June.

As important as the surgeries are to the individual, the most lasting impact may be the mentoring of the local surgeons, anesthetists, nurses, dentists and Bio-Med technicians as we try to impart new skills and learning to help them serve their people long after we depart.  This information is captured on the second page of the attached file.  Seventy health care providers have been mentored since our arrival.  In addition, our Medical Capacity Building program has provided training courses to nearly 900 other participants.

In many respects, our efforts here are completely overshadowed by the overwhelming need in West Africa.  But it is also true that lives are being transformed, that hope for a whole region is being kindled and that only God knows the full impact of the seeds we are planting here each and every day.  Thank you for your prayers, encouragement and support that enable us to be a small part of this amazing work.

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Posted by: nhwaechters | January 15, 2017

The Highs & Lows…(from Tom)

In our last blog post, we shared about celebrating Christmas on the Africa Mercy.  While all of the activities and services were special (definite High points), being away from our kids, grandkids and friends back home was a definite Low point for the holidays.  Since then, we have experienced several other “Highs” and “Lows” that we thought we could share….

Christmas day this year was on a Sunday and the ship was supposed to have the next three days off as scheduled holidays.  The first “Low” was on Monday after Christmas, when I got a call from our Hope Center because two of our septic tanks were overflowing…  Even though it was a scheduled holiday, Ann-Marie had to work because the dressings on our patients’ wounds need to be changed regularly, no matter what day it is and I spent the day arranging to pump down the tanks and having 36 cubic meters of “sludge” hauled away.  However, that “Low” was offset by a last minute thought on my way to the Hope Center to take along a bagful of jingle bells and cable ties.  While coordinating the pump downs, I put jingle bells on the crutches, walkers or casts of over 20 of our ortho patients (all kids).  They were so excited that they had an impromptu parade, making multiple trips marching around the building.

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The Parade paused just long enough for a quick photo…

The next “Low” was later in that week, when we experienced a number of problems with the electrical system at the Hope Center.  This has been an ongoing headache due to an inadequately designed and/or installed system that has plagued us since the beginning of this field service.  I have a growing number of paper weights on my desk consisting of melted circuit breakers, failed switches and failed wiring — see the picture below.  But the “High” that accompanied this challenge was that after I finished working through the last electrical challenge of the year (30 December), Ann-Marie and I packed our bags and headed off for a week’s vacation to visit our son Aaron and his fiancé, Lisa, in Belgium.  The travel was smooth (we did not even have to change time zones or planes) and everything was right on schedule.  We had a wonderful time meeting Lisa’s family and touring around what she calls “her beautiful little country” with the two of them.  Ann-Marie especially enjoyed having cold fingers, toes, a cold nose and wearing a winter coat for the first time in nearly three years.

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My growing collection of melted circuit breakers and failed electrical components

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With Aaron & Lisa in Belgium

Upon our return to the ship, we were faced with more challenges.  The tanks at the Hope Center had to be “de-mucked”.  Taking one look at the pictures below will be a good reminder to you all that your jobs, no matter what they are, aren’t all that bad.  The electrical “opportunities” are continuing as well.  Due to training and early departures, three of the four full time crew positions that report to me in the Transport and Maintenance department are vacant.

Emptying the Tank…..by the Bucketful……

But, that’s only a small part of the story.  In fact it’s not even the real story at all.On Monday of this week, the full eye team was in place and eye surgeries began.  By Monday evening, 11 patients who were blind had a cataract removed.  The surgery takes between 5 and 15 minutes.  Tuesday when their bandages were removed, their sight was restored for the first time in many years.  (Ann-Marie here —-“Each day now at the end of the day when I leave the dock, I have to wait to climb the gangway because the cataract patients are being slowly led by the hand down the gangway.  What joy there is as I see them being led, knowing that by the next day, they will be able to see when their bandages are removed and they will walk with freedom.)  There were 20 more patients on Tuesday and 21 on Wednesday.  One nineteen year old girl who had not been able to see since she was nine years old was one of those patients.  We will be continuing these surgeries for the next several months.

So, at the end of the day, the blind are seeing, the lame are walking and those who were dying are being restored to health.  (Mathew 15:31)  That’s the real story.  Our (very) small part in helping to make this happen is to dress wounds to ensure a full recovery and to keep the vehicles and support facilities functioning, no matter what the problems may be.  We LOVE our jobs, despite the occasional “Low” points and the not-so-occasional (dare we say “never-ending”???) challenges.

 

Closing Note:  To those of you who are following our blog, we have also started a weekly journal that highlights more day to day what our life is like on the ship, and a little more personal sharing than you will find here.  If you have not received our journal entry, it means that you are not on our email list, as that is the only way we will send it out.  If you would like to receive it, send us an email at nhwaechters@gmail.com with your email address.

Posted by: nhwaechters | December 28, 2016

Christmas around the World

With between 30 and 40 different nationalities on-board the Africa Mercy at any given time, we have a LOT of traditions to celebrate Christmas, one of our only common holidays.  We even have a few traditions that are unique just to the Africa Mercy.  Following are  some of the highlights of this year’s Christmas celebration.

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Sinterklaas arrived early in the month to the delight of all the children and those still young at heart

 

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Enough Christmas cookies were made to last a LONG time. Everyone was given a kilogram of dough, which is enough to make LOTS of cookies.

 

The Gingerbread “House” competition brought out a LOT of creativity, including a model of the Africa Mercy and huts from Ganvi, the local stilt village.

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The Christmas Lefse party is our contribution to the preparations.  Ann-Marie has never had a Christmas without lefse thanks to Tom’s discovering he can get the mix in the mail!

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Singing carols on the dock by Candlelight Aussie style.

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As the time to Christmas drew nearer, we celebrated Santa Lucia with the Scandinavians onboard.

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Christmas Eve dinner on Deck 8 with our “Christmas Family” of 13 crew members from nine different countries.

So, that is how we celebrated Our Lord’s birthday and God’s Greatest Gift to us all.  The Christmas Eve service is always special and was one of the true highlights, culminating in the singing of “Silent Night” in eight different languages.  We sorely miss our families and friends back home, but the celebration with the crew of the Africa Mercy was special and will always be remembered.

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On Christmas day, we had the honor of being adopted as “Honorary Brits”, including an invitation to a High Tea where we all gathered to hear the Queen’s speech. Of course, proper cookies were served for the occasion.

 

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We hope your Christmas celebrations were full of Joy and we wish you a very Blessed New Year.

Merry Christmas to all, from the both of us in Benin!!!

Posted by: nhwaechters | November 20, 2016

A Day in the Life….

Dear Family and Friends — 

We thought we would try something a little bit different in trying to keep up with our correspondence.  Another couple on the ship who have become good friends of ours post a weekly diary with a short account of what they experienced each day of the week on the ship.  The husband’s name is Dean and he is a Physical Therapist who works down in our Rehab tent.  This past week, our orthopedic surgeon arrived and they went through the final screening and selection of the patients who will get the orthopedic surgeries to correct their deformed legs.  I have Dean’s permission to share his writings and I think they give a good perspective of the joys we all experience from helping those in desperate need who we can help and the absolute heartache that comes from having to tell others “I am sorry, we cannot help you.”

Here are the excerpts from Dean’s post from last week:

Monday: One clubfoot kid, Arnaud (a patient from the ship’s previous visit in 2009), had one good result, but the other foot had relapsed. I knew that a few casts and a repeat Achilles’ procedure could fix that. But I also knew that all the surgery slots had already been allocated. Dr. Frank agreed with me, and we decided to ask the “powers that be” and try to get him into surgical screening. It’s a long shot.

Wednesday:  We began the tortuous process that is surgical screening. Those with precious yellow badges are seen by the surgeon, Dr. Frank, and final selections for free, life-changing surgeries are made. I probably pray more for the Screening team than any other. They have the toughest of the tough jobs. They are incredible!

A group of potential Ortho patients stand on the dock.

Awaiting final screening and selections for Surgery

A group of potential Ortho patients stand on the dock.

A group of potential Ortho patients stand on the dock.

Thursday: The Longest Day. This was the second of three days of ortho screening, during which the final selections are made as to who gets a surgery and who doesn’t. It is heart-rending. Each day, about 15 precious ones are turned away for a variety of reasons: too old, too young, too ill, bones too brittle, co-morbidities such as syndromes or neurological disorders…But it is also an incredible day of hopes realized for some. Nurses, doctors, therapists, and interpreters, from all over the world are crammed in a small, hot tent studying x-rays, lab tests, assessments, cooperating in making the best decisions they can to produce the best possible outcomes with the limited time and resources available. It is exhausting and exhilarating. Sweat is pouring off foreheads and down napes. Nerves are on edge and we are challenged near our limits. Smiles and cheers, tears and hugs. It is the hardest job you will ever love. Wonderfully difficult. I prayed that the Lord would give me strength. I can’t do this on my own.

We had started the day with “Thankful Thursday” – each of us stating what we were thankful for. We sang a few worship songs, and Marcel (day crew) led us in a sweet prayer, giving the day to the Lord, praising Him for His many blessings, and imploring for His power and courage. We would need it.

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Screening for final selections — a really TOUGH job….

Friday. Well, I thought Thursday was tough. Today it got personal. We were down two teammates with Michelle P off for working the weekend prior, and Sara down with the “traveler’s trots”. So, it was my assignment to advocate for the neglected clubfoot kids in the surgical screening. The first two kiddos made the grade quickly and were allocated surgical slots with relatively minor procedures planned. This was largely because of the 8 weeks of pre-casting we have done. Then it was my little buddy Herve’s turn. You have seen his photos. Dr. Frank gently examined Herve’s feet and asked me a few questions.  He studied the x-rays, teaching the assembled gang as he did. He wanted to say “yes”. He wanted to give Herve the best chance for pain-free function. I prayed, “Lord, please.” But the dome of the talus bone was too flat, the navicular was completely dislocated, the ankle too stiff. The surgery would be radical with no guarantee of success. I was crushed. Herve’s Mum met my gaze. We were both fighting back tears. No, Herve’s best chance was to let his feet go back to where they were, crooked and deformed, but pain free. I should have known what was coming.  I have been doing this for years now, but I didn’t. Herve isn’t some nameless boy on Facebook… he is my little buddy. Now, it is my job to guide him and his Mum back to walking with crooked feet. But I’m not alone. As I excused myself to compose, sweet nurse Kayla asked, “Shall I call Chaplaincy?” “Please”, I said. As I got outside in the bright sunlight, I was met by Martha, the director of the Hope Center, an earthly angel sent by God. She didn’t know what had just happened, but had come seeking me just the same.  She hugged me and we talked briefly. She thanked me for my service with Mercy Ships and, since today is Veterans’ Day, also that of my veteran family members who have served in the military.   Martha left, and I squatted down and wept. When I looked up, there was John Koffe, one of the hospital chaplains. He had rushed down the gangway to the tents to minister to Herve and his Mum. He spent a couple of hours with them. I couldn’t take long; I had more kiddos to present. The next two received priceless surgery dates.

Then we got back to the tasks of exercises and casting. Added to this were the first three pre-operative evaluations on the first three ortho kids to have surgery Monday morning. At one point I looked up, and there was Arnoud and his Mum smiling at me. He had made the cut! Thank you, Lord.  This time, I had tears of joy as Michelle and I casted his foot.

“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8 ESV)

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” (Psalm 34:18-22 ESV)”

So, those are Dean’s writings from the past week.  He and his wife, Marcia, will be with us for a few more weeks, then will be returning to their home in Texas.  As you can tell, it was a week of highs and lows, exhilarating times and heartbreaking times.  Dean’s comment about the Screening team having the toughest of tough jobs is absolutely true.  While they get to deliver great news (“Your surgery is scheduled….”), they also have to tell so many others “I am sorry, we cannot help you.”  The need always outweighs our ability to meet it.   

Please keep the selected patients as well as those we couldn’t offer surgeries to in your prayers.  

 We wish you God’s richest blessings, 

Tom & Ann-Marie

Posted by: nhwaechters | September 26, 2016

“Open for Business”.…from Tom

The Africa Mercy arrived in Benin a little over a month ago.  To say things have been a bit challenging and more than a little bit hectic would be a significant understatement.  Since our arrival, we have trained our 150+ native Beninoise Day Crew workers, gotten our 30 vehicles offloaded, inspected and licensed, screened nearly 10,000 potential surgery patients, unpacked numerous 40’ long shipping containers, thoroughly cleaned and set up our Admissions tent, our Rehab tent and our Outpatient tent, doubled cleaned and set up all of the hospital wards and cleaned and established a sterile environment for our five Operating Rooms.  Additionally, we opened the Dental clinic two weeks ago and are prepared to open our HOPE Center (Outpatient Extension) tomorrow.  There have been more than a few frustrations and challenges, but all things considered, it has all worked out and there have not been any schedule delays.  As I write this, the fact that we have stayed on schedule is really a miracle all by itself.

Just to share a bit about some of the challenges with my job as the Maintenance Coordinator (Ann-Marie thought it would be good idea for me to share what type of stuff I do on a daily basis in case any of you were concerned that I might be bored &/or idle), we found that the electrical cable supplying both the Hope Center and the Dental clinic was significantly undersized, as was the main supply breaker for the Dental clinic.  Neither facility has a grounded system (not unusual in Africa, I am learning), the neutral phase at the Dental clinic is carrying 80 volts (should be zero), there were significant load imbalances between the three electrical phases at both facilities with one of the phases at the Hope Center totally dead and jumpered to one of the other phases, numerous connections in the individual breakers and switches were loose or not made up at all and ten of the individual supply breakers had to be replaced.  (For all of you non-technical people out there who have no clue what I am talking about, I apologize.)  On my good days, I view all of this as “Opportunities” and “Job Security”.  On my not so good days, I won’t tell you what I am thinking about it all.  To date, we have resolved or worked a way around most of these issues, but there are still “Opportunities” lurking out there, trust me.

Ann-Marie has started working out in the Outpatient tent and is thoroughly impressed and amazed by her Day Crew.  One individual speaks nine languages (I am still trying to learn English) and they are all so engaged and hungry to learn.  She really loves her job in the Outpatient tent — frequently says it is the best nursing job she has ever had.

Two weeks ago, surgeries began.  Prior to the first surgery on that Monday morning, members of the crew formed a circle down on deck three enclosing the Operating Rooms and the Long corridor that runs the length of the hospital wards.  Our Chief Surgeon then came over the Public Address system and led the entire crew in a time of prayer for this field service and for the upcoming surgeries.

One quick story that reminded us of why we are all here in the first place.  Our second week here, a young mother arrived with her three week old daughter and 5 year old son.  She had ridden for four hours with the two children on the back of a motor bike, hoping to find help for her daughter.  Her daughter had been born with a double cleft lip and partial cleft palate.  Due to this deformity, the mother had not been able to effectively feed her baby since her birth.  When they arrived, the baby was so listless and malnourished that the hospital physician did not even want to weigh her because he feared that the fight the baby may make when being taken from her mother to be put on the scale might be her last — he felt she was that close to death.  The baby’s name is “Bignon”, which means “All God does is Good”.  The fact that the mother chose that name for her baby who was born with such a condition speaks volumes about her faith.  The sacrifice she made to get Bignon to the ship speaks volumes about her love and courage.

Fortunately, our nurses in the Infant Feeding Program were able to provide formula and training to allow the mother to finally feed her baby, who quickly responded to the nutrition.  She will continue in our Infant Feeding Program for the next several months, and once she has gained an adequate amount of weight to allow surgery to be safely performed, the cleft lip and palate will be repaired.  Until then, please keep her in your prayers.

All for now — “Opportunities” await….

Posted by: nhwaechters | September 18, 2016

Not all Work and No Play! (from Ann-Marie)

Just so you don’t think that we never just have fun around here, last weekend we went to a wedding.  Two of our beloved crew members were married in Cotonou.  Koffi and Yubi, both from Togo, made the decision to be married here in Benin and invited the Africa Mercy Crew to the wedding.  It was a mixture of African and Western Culture, lots of music, great food, and interesting customs to learn about. It was wonderful to be included on their special day.

Tom and I, along with some of the other crew members, had fun having West African outfits made to wear to the wedding,  $12.00 for a shirt for Tom, made in less than 24 hours.  A little more for mine, $24.00 and it took about 3 days, made to order.

What impressed us most about the service was the Pastor’s sermon.  He gave a short sermon to the bride about the Biblical meaning of submission and service to her husband, and, likewise, a short sermon to the husband about the Bible’s mandate to sacrifice himself for his wife, as Christ gave Himself for the church.  Then the pastor gave a really, really long sermon to both sets of parents about the fact that their adult children were now to be one, and independent of them, which meant the parents were not to interfere in the decisions made by the new couple, they were not to give advice unless it was asked for, and they were absolutely not to visit the couple unless they called first and made an appointment.  This sermon was given in French.  The next comment the pastor made was that the couple might be naked and the parents wouldn’t want to interrupt. Of course, all the Africans, and the crew who could understand French just cracked up laughing, so much so that our crew member who was translating could hardly get the words out in English!  Then in the middle of the service, there was a mini-ceremony where the parents of the bride, with the bride between them, walked with the bride over to the groom and gave her to him.  The pastor then repeated his instructions to the parents, especially the bride’s parents, that they had now given their daughter to this man, and they no longer had any right to interfere in their decisions or life.

At the reception, I asked one of our African Crew members if this was normal during the wedding ceremony.  He said, “Yes”, that in-laws interfering is a big problem in Africa, causing a lot of tension and stress in the marriages of some young people.  I wondered if I should tell him that sometimes that was a problem in America, too!

Enjoy the pictures below.  Blessings!

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Looking mighty fine in our new African outfits, along with our fellow crew members.

Africa Mercy crew enjoying the Wedding

 

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The Groom waiting for his Bride

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The Pastor giving his Final Blessing

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The Newlyweds Arrive at the Reception.

Dear Friends and Family,

We have been in Benin for a couple of weeks now.

We docked on a Thursday and by Friday there was a flurry of activity on and off the ship.  The five hospital wards, along with the Operating Room complex, with everything secured for sail had to be unpacked, cleaned, sterilized and setup.  The nurses that are already onboard clean everything twice with a disinfectant – and I mean everything. Every wall, ceiling, floor, cabinet, counter,  piece of equipment, cord, mattress, bed frame, bin, trash receptacle, bio-waste container and more, is deep cleaned by the nurses who will use these wards to care for the approximately 1700 patients who will receive surgery on the ship this field service.  The pharmacy is opened, cleaned and shipping containers organized with the medications for the field service for patients and crew alike, along with the lab and radiology areas.  A team of people from the United States were here to help set up all the facilities off the ship, which includes huge tents on the dock housing our Admissions, Rehab, Ponseti and Screening teams, as well as our Infant Feeding program and Outpatient clinic.  The Outpatient clinic is where all our wound care is done and it will by my “home” until June.  In town we also have facilities loaned to us by the government for the duration of our stay, which will house the Dental clinic, Eye clinic and the H.O.P.E. (Hospital Outpatient Extension) Center.

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Transformed from “Packed for Sea” to “Ready to Receive Patients”

The flurry of activity includes the beginning of screening.  For the first three weeks, our team of nurses will pre-screen as many people as they are able who line up outside the screening center to see if their condition fits the criteria of the surgeons who will soon arrive.  It is a difficult and emotionally challenging job; possibly the most difficult on the ship. We have a limited number of surgical slots for each surgical specialty:  plastics, orthopedics, maxillofacial, general, and women’s health.

Although many people come with surgical conditions, many more come with non-surgical conditions hoping for help.  Some are palliative (terminally ill) and are followed by our Palliative Care team.  Others need surgeries that we are unable to provide.  Of the several thousand people waiting in line the first week of screening, 645 were given appointments to return for the next step of screening with the surgeons.  Our orthopedic, hernia and goiter slots are filled.  The plastics, maxillofacial, and women’s health slots are still open.  This means we can’t stop screening yet.  However, as word has spread throughout the country of Benin, people that might fit into all specialties still come.  For the specialties that are full, those people will have to be told “We’re sorry, all the spots are full”.  Every person we have to turn away is gut wrenching. There are lots of tears as we hear the stories of those to whom we have to say, “No”.  The screening team, along with the entire Africa Mercy community reminds each other of the lives we have seen changed with the surgeries we are able to provide.  The joy we see on the faces of those we are able to serve make it all worthwhile.

The Africa Mercy has been to Benin before.   An attempt has been made to contact all the maxillofacial and plastics patients that received surgery in 2009. Today we began interviewing and evaluating the surgical results for those patients who we were able to reach that were willing to come back to the ship.

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Open for Business: the Patient Waiting Area is under the far canopy, then from left to right are the Admissions, Rehab and Outpatient/Screening tents

The Outpatient Clinic is open again, filled to the brim with nurses, doctors, patients and their caregivers.  For those who just stick their head in the door, it appears to be chaos, but there is order here that everyone can’t see and there is joy!  Patients share with us how their lives were changed when they could return to their village able to walk, run, play ball, carry things, and especially for the children, to go to school.  They are part of life again instead of hiding, being ostracized and teased.

For some, the results were not what we hoped for after 7 years.  Some released burn contractures still do not have full range of motion, some neurofibromas have grown back.  The surgeon sees each person, evaluating whether or not further surgery will be able to improve what has already been done.   Surgical slots have been left for these patients, so some will return to the ship with hope for further improvement.

This is the first time I have been part of the evaluation process at the beginning of a field service in a return country.  Each nurse is assigned a translator, given 3 pages of questions, and sits down one at a time with the patients who have returned.  Questions such as, “Do you have pain related to your surgery”, “Are you satisfied with the outcome?” and “Describe some of the ways your life has changed since you had surgery.”

During a lull, one of the other nurses and I quietly compare notes regarding some of the things we experienced while conducting these interviews.  West Africans respond in ways that are sometimes unexpected, so it may take asking questions several ways before we can actually get an answer to the question we are asking.  And we have new Day Crew translators who are learning to work with us, and understand our accents even though “we all speak English”!  It’s been their first day in the clinic with patients and they have done well.  One of our translators speaks rapid fire using his hands and arms and I think that at the end of the day, he will be tired.

Many times our Chief Surgeon has been interviewed about the experience of patients coming to the ship.  He often says that our first priority is to return function as much as possible. This is physical healing.  But there is another kind of healing which takes place on the Africa Mercy, too, and it starts the moment a person with a need meets their first MercyShipper.  That is the healing of mind and soul, as each person is accepted for who they are and loved no matter how they look or what they are able to do.

Our last question was, “What do you remember most about your stay on the ship?”  And the answer 100% of the time was, “The way I was cared for, that people were kind to me, that I was loved”

The 2009 crew of the Africa Mercy left a legacy for us that follow.

May God help us love as well, the people of Benin who come to us in 2016.  It will be an amazing field service.

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