“Africa Mercy” the newest and largest of “Mercy Ships”

Africa Mercy

I got bored with the NBA All Star game last night, so I tuned to “60 Minutes”.  It’s always a good show, but a story last night really touched me.

I wasn’t aware of the “Mercy Ships.”  The newest and largest is called the “Africa Mercy.”  Approximately 450 people live and work on the ship, and every one of them is a volunteer.

There are 15 doctors and 90 nurses aboard.  There are 78 beds and 6 operating rooms on the floating hospital.  They treat some of the poorest people in the world.  Africa Mercy entered active service in Monrovia, Liberia in June 2007. Its 2012 Field Service is taking place in Lomé, Togo from January to June 2012, and then in Conakry, Guinea from August 2012 to June 2013.

The ship is set up to provide onboard surgical care, an ICU and a recovery ward. Land-based medical operations provide patient screenings for surgeries, health and dental care, mental health programs, and palliative care for terminally ill patients.

The operating rooms of the Africa Mercy are equipped for specific surgeries that are greatly needed in the countries that the ship visits. These surgeries can also be performed efficiently and repeatedly.  Conditions treated on board the ship include head and neck tumors, goiters, hernias, cleft lip and palate, cataracts, crossed eyes (Strabismus), bowed legs (genu varum), club foot, burns and burn scars, childbirth injuries, and the gangrene-like childhood disease called noma.  Because medical care is so scarce in the countries that Mercy Ships serves, these medical conditions often become severe enough to be disfiguring, which means that patients are often shunned by their communities.  The surgical correction of their medical problems assists patients in reintegrating with their communities and resuming normal lives.

Benign tumors caused by excessive enamel growth are not only disfiguring, but also cause breathing difficulty, and obstruct vision.  In the United States, an orthodontist would simply remove the excess enamel before these large tumors could grow.  But these people do not have access to medical care.

Did I mention that everyone is a volunteer?  Not only that, they get charged for volunteering.  Everyone on board pays their own way with the assistance of corporate sponsors.

Gary Parker, a maxillofacial surgeon, came to the ship on lark.  He wanted to see what Mercy Ships were all about, so he thought he’d stay for a few months.  That was 26 years ago.  He and his wife, Susan have been raising their two children on the ship.  They work for 10 months, and then re-supply.

The entire operation which involves about 1200 people for 40 countries is a Christian based organization.  Nurse, Ali Chandra said they jokingly call it the “Love Boat”.  They are a family who are happy with their lives and the good they do.  And in some cases, as it was with her, they find husbands or wives  on board.  Chandra’s spouse is the ship’s electrician.

Scott Pelley asked Gary and Susan Parker how long they planned to live on board the ship.  The said;  “We hope for the rest of our lives.”

James Turnage

Columnist-The Guardian Express