Friday, August 6, 2010

Junior's Genius Foresight

Junior is one of those one-in-a-million kids. He’s an anomaly. After just six years on this earth he has displayed a remarkable amount of grace, resilience and faith. An unwavering faith that one day, when the time was right, God would send someone to correct his crooked legs.

Around the time Junior learned to walk is when his mother realized he was not like the other children. His legs were not straight—they bowed out at his knees. His two legs were shaped like parentheses, as if they were holding in a secret, or a deep disguised reason why he was made this way.

At the ripe-old-age of three, his condition caused him to struggle while walking. His mother, Akpene, was discouraged at first but tried to be optimistic that this was just a phase. Surely, she thought, he would grow out of this deformity.

Three-year-olds do not have insight into their future. At that young age, all they know is their parents give them love and ensure their survival. They are not wise enough to know any different. They have no control over their health, nor do they have foresight to predict the future.

Junior, however, held all of these gifts. He did not accept his crooked legs as simply the hand he was dealt. He knew he would not be this way forever. At the distinguished age of three, he intelligently and confidently looked at his mother and told her, “I know these legs that you are seeing today will not be like this forever.”

She patted him on his head, acknowledging his insight, but was curious as to how he came up with such an unattainable dream. For she knew that the only way to straighten his bow-legs was to have a medical procedure. A procedure that required money. Money she did not have.

The neighboring kids around Junior’s home would laugh at him. They would chase, tease and ridicule him. Harsh words create scars on young children that effect them years down the road. Not for Junior. He was head-strong and determined not to let mean words alter his faith. With the resolve of a mature adult, he would look at them with peaceful eyes and say, “I know you are laughing at me now, But one day I’ll be healed from this disease. One day.”

About a year down the road, an organization arrived that seemed to be the answer to his prayers. Junior and Akpene visited this international healthcare NGO. The doctors there examined his legs. Unfortunately, Junior and Akpene were turned away after being told that there was nothing that the organization could do.

Akpene returned home with her head low, discouraged and dejected. The neighbohood kids continued their teasing. “Ahhhhh Junior,” they said, “They couldn’t help you? Oh, that is too bad.” But Junior’s head was not bowed in shame like his mother’s. Junior’s graciousness to these crude boys was unimaginable for a four-year-old. “They couldn’t help me because they are not the right people,” Junior preached. “I know that I will be healed, Although they couldn’t do it, I know…I believe…that one day I will be healed from this disease.”

Life for Junior went on. He constantly rose above the teasing. Akpene prayed for help, but succumbed to the fact that maybe Junior will never be helped. She grappled with the looks she received from others. Looks that said “Why don’t you do something to help your son. Look at him, he’s disfigured. You must be a bad mother if you can’t find help.” She saw it in the people’s eyes: the disgust. Those looks cut through her heart. “It is so difficult to be a mother to your disfigured child. It tore me apart to see the way people looked at me: like I didn’t love him enough to fix his bowed legs.”

An announcement on the radio on day changed everything. Junior and Akpene heard it together. They were both at home. Mercy Ships was coming. A big white ship offering free medical care. Help was on the way. Junior hobbled over to his mother, tugged on her dress and looked up into her eyes. “Mama, these are the people who are going to help me.”

Akpene was overwhelmed. Her young son, whom she spent so many nights worrying about wide awake in bed, was becoming the person she looked up to. His composure and resilience was comforting. She hoped and prayed that Junior’s intuition was right…and this ship would offer the help he so desperately needed.

Junior and Akpene walked hand in hand to the Mercy Ships screening sight in Lome. There were masses of people: Long lines and a cloudless sky with only the sun beating down relentlessly.

Akpene was inundated by the throngs of people. She and Junior stepped away from the crowds and bought some food from a street vendor. Akpene contemplated her plan of action. She wondered if they should wait in line or simply giving up. Junior, on the other hand, was filled with excitement. He was strong and steady. He eagerly anticipated the moment he would stand in front of the doctor who would say to him “We can fix your legs.”

Then, an angel appeared from the crowd. A women in blue Mercy Ships scrubs emerged from the crowds and long lines and walked over to the young boy sitting on the side of the road. She took the mother’s hand and said, “Come with me.” In that instant, Junior knew that God was using this nurse to bring him face-to-face with the people who would help him.

The nurse led Junior and his mother into the screening tent. The other children surrounding them were screaming out of fear: Fear of the unknown.

Junior stood silently as he was examined by a Mercy Ships surgeon. His composure was astounding and he was overwhelmed with happiness. “See mama, I told you. These are the people. The right ones,” he said to his mother. The doctor handed him a card with an appointment for surgery.

Today, Junior stands on straight legs. He is six years old and his mother tells the story of Junior’s transformation with pride. As the Mercy Ships Togo Field Service came to a close, Mercy Ships invited hundreds of distinguished guests to attend a Thank You event onboard the Africa Mercy. Government officials, Ambassadors, Doctors and other Togolese dignitaries filled the International Lounge. Hospital Managing Director Bill Martin addressed the crowd, thanking them for allowing Mercy Ships to serve in Togo and affect many lives. Then, Bill invited two very important visitors to come to the front of the room.

Six-year-old Junior, along with another boy, stood up from his seat and walked on his arrow-straight legs to the front of the room. He stood next to a photo of himself taken four months earlier. Bill asked the boys to point to their pictures. Junior pointed to his bow legs projected on the screen. Then he glanced down at the straight legs on his body.
Though one would think it was an unbelievable sight, it wasn’t unbelievable to Junior at all—it was what he always knew would happen.

He knew someone could help him, and he had been praying for Mercy Ships his entire life. Now, they have brought him Hope and he is Healed.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Guide de la Vie

On a hot July afternoon, Mercy Ships crew member Alex Williams drove from the Africa Mercy to the Hospitality Center with a special delivery. He had been given a specific and honorable mission to spread the word of God. He couldn’t help but think that he was about to make a difference in many people’s lives. Next to Alex in the passenger seat sat a box of brand new Bibles.

Alex arrived at his destination and unloaded the box, putting the Bibles on the table outside. He met with Hospitality Center Director Barry Wells, and Barry agreed to ask the patients to gather around for a special announcement.

Some patients who were resting inside peeked their heads out of their bedroom doors wondering what the commotion was about. Within minutes, a long line had formed outside under the large canopy tent. Alex and Barry informed the crowd that they had a treat for them: free Bibles for everyone! One by one, people walked through the line and accepted their new Bible. Within minutes nearly all of them had been given out. Recipients included patients, day volunteers, and patient’s family members.

The commotion and noise quickly ceased as, Bible in hand, each person sat on a bench outside and began thumbing through the pages. Instantly, they realized this wasn’t just any Bible. In the front it contained the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs, but toward the back of the book, there was health information. It contained almost fifty pages of basic information about hygiene, malnutrition and diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Emily Odomé, a teenager who resides at the Hospitality Center, had an inquisitive look on her face when she noticed Alex handing out the Bibles. Emily was a plastic surgery patient who came to the ship every-other day for new dressings on her hand where she had surgery. Her curiosity pulled her over to the area where he was distributing them. Happily she got in line and received her very own, shiny new Bible.

It is nice to have a new Bible,” Emily said, “I used to have one but it was old and torn. This one is very nice. I will definitely use it.”

The Hospitality Center was not the only place that Mercy Ships handed out the Bibles. Mercy Ships was extremely fortunate to receive 1,000 brand new Health for Life (Guide de la Vie) Bibles that were distributed through the Programs office. Programs such as Agriculture, Mercy Ministries, Patient Life, and Mental Health were each given a large amount of Bibles to distribute.

Deb Jacobson, coordinator of the Patient Life Program, distributed Bibles to the patients on the ward. The Patient Life Program is responsible to caring for the emotional, spiritual, and relational needs of the patients. Deb truly appreciated the format of the Life Guide Bibles. “Not only are we providing the Word of God for the patients, we are providing them with materials for education. This is an immensely valuable resource-the combination of Bible and educational material.”

Mercy Ministries distributed Bibles to numerous different schools, churches and organizations in Lome. One teacher at the Ephata School for the Deaf in Lomé was extremely grateful for the Bibles. She said, “This Life Guide Bible is very good especially for teaching our students on hygiene, nutrition and health in general. In addition, they have the Word of God which is also essential for their spiritual growth. Thank you for sending them to us. May God bless you.”

Health for Life is a collaboration between three Dutch organizations: Netherlands International Bible Society in Almere, Ark Mission in Amsterdam, and Mercy Ships Holland in Rotterdam. Health for Life aims to provide people in developing countries with in-depth information for healthy lives, both spiritually and physically. The main goal is to contribute to the reduction of the world-wide HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV/AIDS has affected at least 40 million people. Eighty percent of the world’s cases of HIV/AIDS are found in Africa. For this reason, Health for Life decided to give basic information about hygiene, malnutrition and other diseases to prevent the physical struggles people go through.

This unique type of health Bible is intended specifically for developing countries where the population has a high AIDS/HIV risk.

Health for Life Bibles have been printed in English, but this is the very first French language health Bible to be published. The first copy was given Mr. J.Hoogendoorn, Honorary Consul of Togo in Holland. Five thousand copies of Guide de la Vie have been printed. Mercy Ships has been given the privilege of being one of the main outlets to disperse the Bibles in Togo. The bible hand out at the Hospitality Center was the first step in getting the Life Guide Bibles into the hands of the Togolese people to jointly improve their spiritual and physical health. Mercy Ships is proud to be a part of Health for Life and will spread the Bibles to Mercy Ships patients, and beyond.

Alex handing a Bible to Afi. She has had multiple surgeries on the ship.
The long line to get Bibles!

A few caregivers browse through their new Bible.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Branching out from health care...

When Michiel Van de Visser came to Mercy Ships, he imagined he would be doing technical work that would indirectly change lives. Mercy Ships was in Togo to deliver free health care. Though important, Michiel’s position as an Electronics Technician did not directly influence the patient’s lives. Michiel was very skilled at his job and even became a Christian while serving with Mercy Ships. He loyally performed his duties working on the bridge equipment and the engine room equipment, ensuring that the ship was in tiptop shape for upcoming sail.
It never occurred to Michiel that he would have the opportunity to directly change people’s lives. “I had this thought about a year ago that I was going to come to Africa and teach. But I’m not a teacher at all. It wasn’t until I got here that I realized how that idea would materialize.” Health care may be the main purpose of Mercy Ships, but Michiel is a superb example of how Mercy Ships makes a different in people’s lives outside of the hospital—through capacity building.

Day Volunteers are local men and women who work for Mercy Ships during a field service. In Togo, Mercy Ships hired over 150 Day Volunteers to serve as translators, cooks, maintenance workers, among other things. In the Engineering Department, the day volunteers maintain the air conditioning, plumbing and other vital jobs that allow 350 volunteers to live and work on board.

Michiel was approached by a day volunteer that wanted to learn more about basic electronics. Alfred, the day volunteer, identified Michiel as a skilled worker and he wanted to learn more. Alfred saw Michiel as the right man to teach him. Michiel thought about the man’s request, and debated about how he could help him. Alfred was very curious and eager to learn. Alfred inquired about books or any other resources he could use to absorb knowledge of how to build and operate basic electronics.

Michiel prayed about the situation and realized this was the opportunity to teach that he had previously thought about! God wanted him to impart his electronics knowledge to a group of enthusiastic men who were eager to learn.

He and Alfred prayed for God to give them the wisdom, patience, and resources to follow this idea through. Alfred quickly identified four other day volunteers interested in participating in a course. Michiel researched on how to teach an electronics class. Within a very short time, Michiel found himself teaching an electronics class two nights a week to five zealous students frantically scribbling down his every word.

“I was really teaching myself to teach. If you are a teacher you’ve got to know what you’re talking about. I had a lot of on the job experience that I could offer them, but if I didn’t know something, I’d simply Google it!” Michiel said. For every hour he was in front of the class teaching, he spent at least an hour in preparation outside the classroom.

Getting materials was challenging. Michiel researched and found a good textbook online. He happened to be going Florida for a wedding so he had the books shipped to a friend’s house in Florida. Then he brought them back to Togo with him. All five of the students purchased the book. Luckily, through prayer and people willing to help, the class received all the resources they needed.

“The first three months I dedicated to theoretical teaching. I stood in front of a white board, explaining to them about basic electronic components,” said Michiel.

Oluwafemi, known simply as Femi, was one of the Michiel’s students. He was extremely excited about the new skills he has gained from the class. “I have been able to learn basic electronics. I’ve learned about soldering, and how to recognize printed circuit boards, and the various components that go into a printed circuit boards.”

Michiel felt it was very important for the class to put their theoretical knowledge to the test. They needed a practical application of what they had learned. On a personal trip home to Holland, Michiel purchased five electronic modeling kits. His brother graciously agreed to sponsor the materials. “I brought back the modeling kits, and they served as the ‘final exam’ of the course. Each student put together a different electronic device. It involved soldering and making their own Printed Circuit Boards.”

After months of learning it was time for the class to come to an end. Michiel felt these five men deserved some kind of recognition for the hard work they put into this course. “They all learned so much,” Michiel said, “I was so proud of them—They took their free-time to attend this class. They deserved something to show for their accomplishment.”

Africa Mercy Captain Tim Tretheway was happy to help Michiel honor these hard-working day volunteers. He had official Mercy Ships certificates made and the group held a certificate ceremony and informal graduation. After the ceremony, Femi felt blessed to be given the chance to learn something new. “I am grateful to God and to Michiel for giving me the opportunity to learn these skills.”

“Now these men have a skill,” Michiel reflects, “Something they can put on their resume to prove they have knowledge of electronics. I hope this expertise serves them well in the future.”

Mercy Ships seeks to put knowledge into the heads and hands of as many people in West Africa as possible. That knowledge—whether it is agriculture, mental health, dental hygiene or something else—will continue to spread long after the ship has sailed. Capacity building is a wonderful way to truly transform a group…a city…a nation. Providing aid is helpful, but it is simply a Band-Aid on a severely damaged body. If you give west Africans the knowledge to grow better crops or make better electronics, then that knowledge is a stepping-stone to building a stronger economy. Michiel invested his own time, energy, knowledge and resources in these five men. His efforts will undoubtedly continue to improve their lives many years down the road.

And he thought he wasn’t going to directly change lives…Think again.

Michiel teaching in Crew Mess.
Learning to solder

printed circuit board (PCB)

Practice makes perfect!
The entire class! Teacher & students in Crew Mess where they held class.
The Certificate Party/Graduation dinner
Michiel with an African shirt given to him by his students.
Graduated! Mercy Ships Electronics Class :)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Infant On Board

Imagine being born into this world struggling to breathe. It’s been nice and warm inside your mother’s stomach for nine wonderful months and all of a sudden you are thrust into bright lights gasping for air.

Born in Kpalime, Togo at the American Baptist World Evangelist Hospital (ABWE), that was exactly Kossi’s experience. There are many countries across the world where Kossi could have been born, but God chose a primitive African setting to be his home.

Not many Togolese babies are lucky enough to be born in hospitals. It was a blessing that Akoua, Kossi’s mother, was able to give birth to him under the care of a doctor. Akoua struggled during labor and required a c-section. The moment Kossi was brought into this world, there were complications.

There was a cystic lesion on the topside of his tongue that made it twice the size of a normal newborn baby’s tongue. He was unable to get proper nutrition because he was couldn’t suck to breastfeed. If the lesion was not removed Kossi could starve to death. Dr. Russ Ebersole of the ABWE Hospital knew that Kossi needed treatment beyond what he could provide. Dr. Russ picked up the phone and called his friends at Mercy Ships.

Rachel Dix, Mercy Ships Screening Coordinator, picked up the phone. She was precisely the Mercy Ships crew member he needed to speak to! Dr. Russ explained Kossi’s situation to Rachel. She checked with the ward supervisor and asked the surgeons if they could squeeze a newborn baby into their very tight schedule. Dr. Leo Cheng, a maxillo-facial surgeon on the ship from Cambridge, England, agreed to do the surgery. Rachel called Dr. Russ and gave him the go-ahead. Just a few hours after entering this world Kossi and his parents received approval to come to Lomé and be admitted onto the ward of the Africa Mercy for surgery.

Overwhelmed and still recovering from a C-section, Akoua tried to soak in the news. In a span of a few hours the doctor had told her that her newborn needed immediate surgery. In order to get the care he needed, she and her husband, Kodjo, would have to travel three hours to the capital city of Lome to get to the hospital. A hospital which, oddly, was on a ship. That was a lot of information to absorb.

One blessing was that Kodjo was a taxi driver. As soon as Akoua felt strong enough to travel, they loaded up the taxi with the precious new life God had given them, and headed south on the open road.

A few hours later the couple pulled their car onto the dock of the Africa Mercy. They’d never seen anything like it in their lives.

It was so tall. And bright white. We’ve never even been to a port,” said Kodjo, “We were told the ship was leaving soon, so we arrived as quickly as we could.”

Rachel was notified of their arrival and walked down the gangway to meet the adorable bundle of joy. She greeted the parents, and then took Kossi in her arms. She walked them onto the ship and then down into the Hospital.

Kossi was welcomed and immediately adored by every single nurse on the ship. It was so exciting to have a newborn on the ward. Kossi and his parents settled into in the ward--Akoua and Kossi snuggled up in one bed and dad just next to them.

Surgery day was upon them and the nervousness on Akoua’s face was evident. It is not common that a five-day-old baby has surgery, especially on a ship! But she knew it was necessary for his survival. And she trusted Mercy Ships—they had been so kind to her since she arrived. “Regardless,” she said just before sending her precious baby into the operating room, “This is our last child.” Insinuating that the stress of Kossi’s medical condition was enough for them to handle.

Kossi was carried into the operating room, and Dr. Leo performed the surgery. Everything went great and there were no complications. A few hours later precious little Kossi was back in the ward snuggling with his mother. The only trace of surgery was the handful of blue stitches dotting his flat tongue.

Kossi and his mother stayed in the ward for a week to ensure a complete recovery. On his rounds, Dr. Leo checked in with the infant. Dr. Leo explained Kossi’s situation, “The threat of this lesion was very serious. Because was tongue convex [and not concave like a normal tongue] he couldn’t breast feed at all. That was the first problem. The second problem was that if the lesion grew larger, it could shut off his airway.”

During recovery, the nurses taught Akoua a new method to feed Kossi. Used by babies with cleft lip and/or palate, the cup method is a way to ensure the formula gets into the infant’s body without him/her spitting up the food. By the end of the stay on the ward, Kossi was drinking from a small cup, and even taking a bottle.

The time came for Kossi and his parents to return to their home near Kpalime. Dr. Russ at the American Baptist World Evangelist Hospital had requested that they check in with him when they return from the ship. The collaboration between ABWE and Mercy Ships is a wonderful relationship that has saved many lives. Five-day-old Kossi will not remember his time on Mercy Ships, but his parents will never forget their live-saving visit to the big white Hospital ship.


I’m in Africa.  (thank you Claire for stating the obvious)
I’m thousands of miles away from my family.
My best friend back home just got engaged (who happens to be my sister).
I have a wonderful boyfriend in Texas.
I have a Masters Degree.
There are many well-paying jobs that I am qualified for.
I interned last summer at a large company and was able to shop all I wanted off of my lovely paycheck.

I live among 350 people in a very small space.
The food gets old.
My bed is uncomfortable.
It’s nearly impossible to have time to yourself on this ship.
I depend on donations to be able to go out and experience the city.
I can’t walk 500 yards from this ship alone because it is not safe.

For the first time in my life, I wake up every morning excited to go to work. I LOVE my job. Love it. Everything about it. It’s a dream.

Does this all measure up? How is it possible that when I lived right down the street from my family and had a decent job, I found myself completely unsatisfied? Some would say that life post-college is about the following things: finding a career. Finding a husband. Hanging out with friends who’s company you truly enjoy.  Possibly going back to school, furthering your career.
Bottom Line: Discovering who you are, what you want, and how to get it.

What it should not be about: Who has the largest engagement ring. Who went on the coolest vacation. Who is the most successful. How big your house is. Peoples lives should not be measured by the kind of car your drive or the carats in your diamond. (facebook feeds this competition, and I think a facebook boycott is coming soon)

I will never forget the moment I finally admitted to myself, out loud, that I wanted to work for Mercy Ships and come to Africa. It was Christmas day. I was in Santa Fe with my mother and good friends Claire and Jeremy. We were a few glasses of wine in…and discussing career options. Claire said, “You should be a teacher! You are so creative and caring.” And I looked at her and said, You know what I really want to do? I want to work for Mercy Ships. My mom piped up—You do??
Yes, I do.
Well, where did this come from??
I don’t know, I’ve just been thinking about it a lot.
Well…then you should do it!
Sure, why not???
That was all the support I needed.

Now, not everyone is as crazy as me to up and move to Africa for three months, but one thing I’ve learned over here is that it is possible to be happy at your job. Really happy. Excited about the challenges of the day. Hell, some people would be miserable living on this ship! This would not be the right place for them. But you’ve got to find that one thing that does it for you. That clicks. That when the alarm goes off in the morning at some ungodly hour, 9 times out of 10 you say “Today’s gonna be a good day.”

I write and run all over this ship all day long. Down to post ops, out to the dock,  back into the office, to starbucks for coffee, then back to the ward. I drag Tom to take photos of my patients who I’m following. But when you put it in perspective, if just one of my stories has made in impact on someone who simply mentions Mercy Ships to a friend over a lunch or a cup of coffee, then I feel like I’ve made a difference. Because the more people who know about Mercy Ships and the wonderful things they are doing, the more likely Mercy Ships will expand and thrive in the years to come.

No, living in Africa on a ship is not for everyone. But, it took me coming all the way over here and working for free to find peace and happiness when the alarm goes off at 7:00am.

And because I have found that peace, it has been well worth the sacrifice of leaving the ones I love and facing an adventure on my own. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Noelie's survival

Noelie is not your average 22 –year-old. She has struggled much of her life. Many people go through hardships, especially in Western Africa, but Noelie has endured difficulties in many ways. This is not the first time Mercy Ships has been called upon to lend a hand in her life.

Noelie grew up in Lomé, Togo, a city on the coast of Western Africa. When she was 15, Noelie was experiencing a growth inside her face, near her left eye. At that time, Mercy Ships was in Togo and Noelie had surgery on the Anastasis. Mercy Ships surgeons removed as much of the tumor as they could in a process called de-bulking.

With a regular life restored, Noelie went back to living as usual. She met a man, married him and moved to Benin. She gave birth to two children. Around the time she was pregnant with her second child, the tumor on her face returned. This time, it grew back larger than before. At this point, her husband left her. He saw no need for a wife who was not “normal.” Noelie had no money to go to the doctor, and she had no idea if Mercy Ships would ever come to Benin or Togo.

When the tumor returned the second time, it was much more severe than the first occurrence. The growth was concentrated inside her cheek, jaw, and eye. It began pushing her left eye up, and out. Noelie strained to see out of this eye. Along with the strained vision, her appearance was distorted; one eye much higher than the other.

Five years after her first surgery, and feeling alone and dejected, Noelie moved back to Lomé with her children. That is when her life in hiding began.

“I decided not to go out. I would stay in the house all day. People would ask me why I look that way. ‘What is wrong with you?’ They would say. It hurt me inside.” At this point Noelie was barely past her teenage years with no husband and 2 children. She had hit the lowest point of her life at the tender age of twenty.

She couldn’t wallow in her sorrow forever. Though she was upset and depressed, her children depended on her. She needed desperately needed a change. Her sister stepped in and was able to lift Noelie’s spirits.

“My sister told me: ‘You cannot stay in here like this. You are a human being. You need to be interacting with other people. This is no way to live.’ So, after that, I decided she was right. Living inside is no way to go about life.”

Noelie decided that the best way to get out of the house was to get a job. She had a skill that needed to be put to use. She always loved fixing hair, so she went to school and became a hairdresser. Eventually, she began working as the second hair dresser in a Coiffure (hair salon) in Lomé.

Work helped distract her from the tumor growing inside her face. But it was never too far out of her mind. Noelie lay in bed at night wondering if she would ever have surgery again to fix her eye. Work was helping her gain confidence to be among other people, she still dreamed of a normal face.

Would the Mercy Ship ever return, she wondered?

Then, one day, Noelie was at work when she heard the news she had been waiting to hear for several years. An announcement on the radio revealed that Mercy Ships was coming back to Togo! Noelie was overwhelmed with joy. She walked home from work that day and couldn’t stop smiling.

“I couldn’t believe it. I thought, maybe Mercy Ships would be able to help me the way they did before,” Noelie said.

Noelie attended screening when the time came and was approved for surgery. It had been seven years since her previous surgery, and she was returning to the big white hospital ship once again: with the hope of being healed. This ship was larger than before. It was a new ship. A nurse explained to her that during the time since the last visit to Togo, Mercy Ships had purchased a larger ship—the Africa Mercy.

Once on board, Dr. Leo Cheng, maxillo facial surgeon, took a look at Noelie.

“I was mainly concerned with her eye. The tumor was pushing her eye up and putting a lot of pressure on it. If that part of the tumor was not removed, she could go blind,” said Dr. Leo.

Noelie went into surgery for de-bulking, the same process as before. Dr. Leo removed the majority of the tumor. Noelie was insistent she keep her teeth and her mouth intact. If Dr. Leo attempted to remove the entire tumor, he would have to take out her whole jaw and do an entire facial re-construction requiring multiple surgeries to re-shape her face. This may be a viable option down the road, but de-bulking is the best choice given her age.

During Noelie’s surgery, I removed the top half of the upper jawbone, right hand side of the cheekbone and put a titanium plate in her face that is now supporting her eye,” Dr. Leo said.

Noelie came out of surgery and was taken to the recovery room. For the first few days after surgery, her face was swollen and tracked with stitches. But her spirits were high. She interacted with the nurses and other patients on the ward. Though her faced was scarred, her eyes were finally evening out.

When she looked in the mirror, she saw a glimpse of her former self.

“I’m so amazed at what the doctors can do here. More than any other patient, I thank Mercy Ships so much—they have helped me not once, but twice,” Noelie says.

Dr. Leo reflects on her transformation, “You cannot do this in any hospitals in West Africa. There are many very capable surgeons here. But they do not have the equipment of the nursing staff to take care of patients after a major surgery. This ship is truly amazing in what we can do.”

Noelie, pre surgery, on the Anastasis in 2003.
Noelie after surgery in 2003.

Pre-op photo of her second surgery in 2010.

Noelie and Joanne
Noelie after surgery--Final Post Op day

Thursday, July 22, 2010

And the Blind Shall See

Catherine Schwebel with Komlavi in his shop. Komilavi is sportin' his shades after his surgrey.

Inside Komlavi's Market shop---check out all the great stuff he sells/makes!

God watches over those of us who are believers. God was working overtime when it came to Lomé resident and market vendor, Komlavi Djikpo.

Catherine and Marty Schwebel, Chaplains aboard the Africa Mercy, were browsing through an artisan market with their sons when they met a very nice man who sold wooden sculptures. They liked him, and his crafts, so much that they referred all of their Mercy Ships friends to him for purchases! They took his card, and learned his name was Komlavi.

A few days later a few Mercy Ships crew members were out browsing the same artisan market when they began talking to one of the shop owners. He mentioned that he couldn’t see well out of his right eye. Alana Abernathy, a member of the eye team, took a look at Komlavi’s eye.

Alana recalls, “I took him over into the shade where I could see into his pupil better. Sure enough, I saw one of those dense, white cataracts. I was so happy!”

The Sculptor at work.

Seeing the cataract made Alana smile because she knew this was a problem that Mercy Ships could definitely solve. Alana wrote down the location of the eye care screening, and told Komlavi to come to the screening soon because criteria for cataract surgery were changing: he would only make the cut if he made it in the next couple of days.

A few days later Marty & Catherine were exercising in the port in front of the ship. They saw a man walking up to the ship and they recognized him.

“Marty, I think that is the man from the market!” Catherine said. They approached the man, and saw that it was Komlavi. They read the note written by Alana. They realized that he has encountered other Mercy Ship crew members, and it looked like we could help him. Marty and Catherine jumped in a Mercy Ships vehicle and drove Komlavi to the eye screening site and by the end of the day he was cleared for surgery.

Had it not been for 2 separate encounters with Komlavi, he may have never made it to screening. It was fate that put Marty & Catherine on the dock when Komlavi arrived.

“The Schwebels really connected the dots for this man,” said Marketing Director Mila Hightower. “They ensured that he was where he needed to be in order to get the proper screening. God definitely had a hand in this.”

Marty Schwebel comments, “We prayed for him and said, Lord, please make it be cataracts and let Dr. Strauss be able to do surgery on him.” And sure enough, Dr. Strauss was able to help Komlavi.

Now, after surgery, Komlavi is back in his market shop selling intricately carved wood sculptures and trinkets. Surgery is done but he must come back for one last procedure.

Six weeks after his cataract surgery, Komlavi returned to the Hospitality Center for a check-up and to receive his YAG laser procedure. This was a quick process and was performed by Mercy Ships Eye Specialist, Clyde Houston. The YAG laser was a painless shot of light sent into Komlavi’s eye. It is necessary to prevent blurriness or cloudy vision from returning after cataracts surgery.

Komlavi at the Hospitality Center getting his checkup.

Receiving the YAG procedure.

With Dr. Clyde Houston just after the YAG eye procedure.

“Komlavi was one of the best patients I did all day. He was extremely still. Many patients move or blink a lot. Komlavi did great,” said Clyde.

Jut after he received his YAG procedure it was time for the Celebration of Sight. The Celebration of Sight is a ceremony in which all of the cataract patients of Mercy Ships come together in one place, and celebrate their successful surgeries. Before, they all struggled to see clearly. Now, their sight was perfectly clear. Komlavi was no exception.

The ceremony began and there was singing and dancing. Komlavi sat quietly in the second row, assessing the situation. His eyes moved quickly observing the others who began clapping and dancing around him. Many patients felt the rhythm in their bodies, and got out of their seats to dance around. Komlavi was cautious at first. Then, he got up out of his seat, and joined the line of dancing men and women.

He was able to capture a few joyful moments with a small point and shoot camera. The smiles that surrounded him were contagious.

Then, a few patients stood up and to give their testimony. Komlavi, moved by the celebration and his wonderful experience with Mercy Ships, stood in front of the crowd, and told his story:

“My name is Komlavi Djikpo. I am a sculptor and a carpenter. A wood artist. I was having this eye problem for a long time, but I was unable to go to the hospital.
One day, I met some white people coming to my shop. They told me about mercy ships because I told them I was having an eye problem. They promised to help me. And they have helped me.
I came to the ship for the surgery and I have never gone into an operating room in my life. That day I was so scared. And I prayed that God would help me go through the process. I did not even know that they had done the surgery already. I did not feel anything. I just woke up and I found myself on the bed.
The next day when they took the patch off I was so happy because I could see clearly. And I’m very glad for what God has done for me and I’m praying that God helps anyone else who is willing to have such an opportunity. May God bless everybody.”

Komlavi’s testimony encouraged many people. The crowd raised their hands in praise, and clapped in amazement after he told his story.

Marty Schwebel was able to witness Komlavi’s testimony at the Celebration of Sight. It was like seeing this man’s story full-circle. At their initial meeting, Marty simply admired Komlavi’s fine craftsmanship. Now, Marty stood at the Celebration of Sight, witnessing Komlavi’s testimony. Komlavi can now see crystal clear out of both eyes, and Marty helped make that day happen.

“It was so nice seeing Komlavi sit amongst all those who were celebrating their restored vision. Komlavi is a very stoic, serious man but it was great to see him break into a smile as he thanked Mercy Ships and the Lord Jesus for healing him,” Marty said.

After riveting testimonies from three other cataracts patients, the Celebration of Sight came to a close. The patients in attendance thanked the Mercy Ships crew profusely for their patience, their attentiveness, and their caring.

Komlavi was so appreciative of Marty and Catherine, and Alana’s help to get him to Mercy Ships. Because of their patience, their attentiveness, and their caring, Komlavi now had crystal clear vision. His sculpting work for his shop will now greatly improve. He is excited about the opportunity ahead.

“Now that I am healed, and I can see out of my right eye, I think things will get better. Maybe, even, I can learn to make new things to sell in my shop. Thank you Mercy Ships.”

Interviewing Komlavi..."So, tell me how you felt when you came to the ship for surgery?"

He is the sweetest man on earth! I love him.

Catherine and Marty survey my interviewing skills.

Outside with Komlavi---and other eye patients in the background.

Celebration of Sight!

One of the Day Workers in charge of the Ceremony. Thanking the Lord for blessing all these wonderful people.

I gave Komlavi my camera to document the party.

Elaine and I enjoying ourselves :) Komlavi took more pictures of us than the crowd!

Komlavi giving his testamony.

Me telling Komlavi to take pics of other people!! (not me haha), he just took pics of Tom instead!

The back of the Eye Team's scrubs.

Photographs mainly by the lovely TOM BRADLEY.....
intwertwined with a few from Catherine Schwebel and Komlavi (via my camera).