Hi there. I have created this site so that you my friends, family and sponsors can keep in the loop during my year on the Anastasis - in Ghana and Liberia. I will update it as often as I am able, and hope that you can get the feel of life on board a volunteer hospital ship!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Plastics African Style

Hello there, I hear through the grapevine that Bawa's story really touched some of your hearts last week, he certainly touched ours here on the ward! This week I thought I would share with you about my month of plastic surgery, and in particular a little dude called Ebenezer.

This is me and Ruth Van den Burg, out nurse advisor for plastics and maxillo-facial surgery. I was pulled of the ward to work alongside Ruth for three weeks, sharing my nursing knowledge about my favourite specialty! We were responsible for overseeing the care of the patients recieveing plastic surgery on board for the month that Dr Tertius Venter was on board the ship. My major job was to help Ruth with the dressing changes of all ot the patients.

Those of you who know this is what plastic surgical nurses do best - so I was in my element! Most of the patients had suffered burns at some stage, and the skin contracts as it heals, pulling tightly over joints. We use skin grafting to relase these contractures, and restore function to the patient as best we can.

There are some wonderful little kids whom I have unfortunately caused a bit of pain when changing dressings, but with the use of good pain killers, blowing bubbles, stickers and of course sedation, we still get along fine.

This little dude trying to touvh the ceiling is Ebenezer - here is a little of his story, written by our communications department.

When veteran South African plastic surgeon Tertius Venter arrived onboard the Mercy Ship, he found his exam room a bit crowded. There were 117 patients waiting dockside to see Dr. Venter his first day on the job. During a marathon screening session, July 25, Dr. Venter agreed to perform operations for 102 of these patients.

One of the first patients to receive surgery onboard the Mercy Ship is a badly burned little boy named Ebenezer Addo. Ebenezer was out playing with a friend one day when he stumbled into a field where charcoal was being made. The red-hot coals lay smoldering, hidden beneath a thin cover of topsoil.

The heat was so intense it quickly melted Ebenezer’s plastic sandals to his feet. Confused by the sudden pain, the boy reached down in a futile attempt to brush away the hurt and so his hands were also badly burned. The pain quickly drove Ebenezer to his knees and he crawled to safety, leaving his legs burned as well.

In the developed world, a child so badly injured would be immediately rushed to a specialized burns unit. But as in many poor countries, Ghana’s healthcare system is a pay-as-you-go service. Ebenezer was admitted to the hospital, but his burns received little attention because the family could not afford the cost. As a result the burned flesh contracted into rock-hard scar tissue, pulling Ebenezer’s hands and feet into misshapen claws.

“The thing about burns is, if you don’t treat them in good time they heal by what’s called ‘secondary tension’ or ‘contracture formation’,” Dr. Tertius explains. “This means the wound pulls closed by itself and that will pull your fingers closed in the palm of your hand or pull your shoulder up so that you can’t move it…a frozen position. “So we release that and treat that with skin grafts. It’s obviously very satisfying to do that, particularly with small children who come in with their hand in a little ball and he can’t open his hand and you can release that with skin grafts and they do very well. They get a lot of function back in those hands.

Ebenezer is still in recovery onboard, but the grafts are holding and his prognosis is good. The boy’s mother, Matilda, is so impressed with the Mercy Ship she’s decided the vessel and crew must be heaven sent. “I believe the nurses and doctors are little angels dropped from heaven just for my Ebenezer to get a chance at living again,” Matilda says. “My boy is alive, he smiles and I see the light in his eyes.”

Dr. Venter is preparing to leave the Mercy Ship after treating roughly half of the 102 patients accepted for surgery. He’ll return in November to perform operations for the remaining patients. Interestingly, Dr Venter supports his frequent collaborations with Mercy Ships through the proceeds from a cosmetic surgery practice in Ireland. In just a few months’ time he can earn enough to spend the balance of the year treating the forgotten poor without charge.

Ebenezer is known by the ward nurses as spiderman! Until next time.....

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bawa's Story

Hello everyone. This week I wanted to share with you Bawas story. It was prepared by two of our crew photographers Esther Biney and Ashleigh Pitt, and Bawa was happy for us to share it with you, so here it goes!

A relentless sun and clouds of dust poured in through the open windows of the old bus as it bounced along a back road in West Africa. Beads of sweat cut muddy tracks across the faces of the passengers. In spite of the heat, one man onboard wore a heavy scarf wrapped around his head and his shirt buttoned all the way up for the entire 15 hour journey. Bawa Tarfo was afraid what might happen if his fellow travelers saw the horrible tumors disfiguring much of his body.

For years Bawa lived with the tumors called keloids: scar tissue gone wild and growing in large folds and pouches on his head, face, neck and torso. The physical pain and discomfort were exceeded only by the humiliation and shame Bawa felt when others noticed his deformity. Living so badly disfigured was a horror. Everyone stared with shock and loathing.

Traditional doctors tried strange herbs. Quack doctors gave advice that nearly killed him. Blades and strings had been used in the past in unsuccessful attempts to remove his keloids, leaving his pain and disfigurement even worse. Dejected and hopeless, he’d been living behind his scarf now for a full decade.

First in line, Bawa was the first to be screened. He was also among the first to be accepted for surgery. Bawa held the tiny yellow appointment card to his face and wept quietly.

Nothing in life had prepared him for the experience of being taken onboard the big, white hospital ship for treatment. He was still in his own country, but suddenly living in a western world. He watched the nurses and doctors closely. They weren’t related to him or any of the other patients, but they were treating everyone with great love and respect anyway. “I have never been pampered so much in my life like I have been here on the ship,” Bawa marveled. “Not even my mother loved and cared for me like the crew. I watched in awe as crew who weren’t even medical staff would come and visit and talk to me. I don’t want to leave this ward.”

Doctors removed 8 pounds of keloid tissue from Bawa’s body. Wrapped in bandages after his surgery and still in pain, Bawa’s eyes spoke volumes. The haunted and wounded look in his eyes had disappeared to be replaced with confidence, faith and gratitude.

“I am over excited because I am a changed person,” Bawa said a few days later. “Not only am I changed on the inside but on the outside as well. I am a new person and very handsome. I am ready to go find my wife; if she accepts me I want her back

Inspiring don't you think!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Mercy Ships Projects

Hi there! I thought I would let you know a bit about the other projects that Mercy Ships are involved with, although the medical focus is strong, there is plenty more going on off the ship!

One of the Mercy Ships projects is the construction of a maternity hospital here in Tema. A team of very hard working guys are spending their buisness hours in the hot sun digging holes, pouring cement and generally constructing a ward along side local labourers. It is a big job, especially in the heat and will hopefully be finished later in the year.

The water team are aiming to drill 30 wells, and construct hundreds of latrines during our time in Ghana, working alongside the government and community members to ensure the skills are passed on. The team also includes an educator, who goes into the local communities and schools to teach and encourage better sanitation and hygiene practices. I was lucky enough on one of my days off to go with the Water and Sanitation team to a village 2 hours north of Tema where they are in the process of constructing a well. It was great to get out and see what the other departments are up to.

The village is really neat, and will benefit greatly from having a clean water supply within walking distance. We certainly take for granted the fact we have drinking water come out of our taps at the turn of a knob! It is estimated that having latrines within a village can reduce disease within a community by around 70%, so It is certainly a worthwhile project.

Another project Mercy Ships is working on is a bee keeping programme. The Community Development team has trained about 52 women in bee keeping, and on Weds 30 August, a friend and I will be heading out with CDS to help with some community teaching around bee safety. This will be great - and the project will give a number of women greater earning capacity. I will post some more info about the bee keeping programme after my trip in August.

So as you can see, the ward and the medical work is just a part of the work Mercy Ships does here in West Africa. Thanks again for your interest, hope you are all well, Soph!