Entries by shawnthompson

Father is first patient in Sierra Leone to receive life transforming surgery on board Mercy Ship

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE, SEPTEMBER 13, 2023 – A 43-year-old man who feared he would have to live with a tumor on his face for life was the first patient to receive a life-changing surgery on board the world’s largest civilian hospital ship, the Global Mercy™ yesterday (Sept 12th) in the Port of Freetown, following the ship’s recent arrival.

Father-of-one Emmanuel thought the small lump in his mouth was just toothache or a cold sore when he discovered it four years ago. But it continued to grow bigger on his lower face and medication did not stop it continuing to enlarge.

He had resigned himself to living with the tumor forever but he constantly worried that it would burst and complicate his health.

Yesterday, the Sierra Leonean who lives in Freetown became the first person to receive one of more than 2,350 surgeries planned for the Global Mercy’s 10-month stay in Freetown.


Passing on the Healing: Hawa’s Story of Life-Saving Surgery

There was much excitement on board the Global Mercy™ recently as a young woman named Hawa climbed up the gangway. 

Hawa, an aspiring nurse from Sierra Leone, had never set foot on this brand-new hospital ship. But she has walked this swaying path over the water before. 

Hawa boarded the first Mercy Ship, the Anastasis, as a small child, when a tumor was slowly encroaching on her ability to eat and breathe. It was there that her life was saved, and a new dream was born. This year, Hawa’s journey to hope and healing came full circle as she reunited with Mercy Ships once more. 

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Training that Saves Lives: Dr. Camara’s Story

As a young boy, Dr. Abraham Camara was puzzled when relatives, friends, and neighbors came to seek medical help from his father, a high school teacher.

“He was the only person who had gone to university, and he worked for the government,” explained Dr. Camara. Thus, “they thought he would know a lot about healthcare.”

His father embraced the responsibility. He recommended hospitals, raised funds for medical bills, made appointments with doctors, and took neighbors to treatments when he could.

Watching his father in action planted seeds of empathy in Dr. Camara’s heart. A dream to go into medicine was born.

Dr. Camara grew up to make that dream a reality. For the past 12 years, he has been training to become a specialized surgeon. This dream is rooted in the desire to become the ultimate champion of his patients: “I want to be in the best possible position to help.”

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The Global Mercy™ arrives in Freetown, Sierra Leone to Bring Safe Surgery and Education

On August 22, a long-awaited day of hope arrived as the Global Mercy™ sailed into the port of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

It was a moment more than 30 years in the making. The start of this field service marks the next chapter in a three-decade partnership between Mercy Ships and Sierra Leone, meaning the floating hospital ship’s arrival wasn’t a greeting – it was a homecoming.

Sierra Leoneans Welcome Newest Mercy Ship, the Global Mercy™ into Port of Freetown

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE, 22 AUGUST 2023 – In response to an invitation from H.E. President Julius Maada Bio, Freetown has welcomed a Mercy Ships hospital ship, marking the sixth instance of the collaboration between Mercy Ships and the government of Sierra Leone. This time it is the Global Mercy™ the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, which has docked at the Queen Elizabeth II Quay.  For the next ten months, Mercy Ships’ newest state-of-the-art hospital ship will partner with the Ministry of Health to provide free specialized surgeries to Sierra Leoneans and targeted training for healthcare professionals until June 2024.

Mercy Ships’ programme strategy has been carefully aligned with the country’s current strategic healthcare plan.


Sierra Leonean Mercy Ships Volunteers Look Forward to Bringing the Global Mercy™ Home

Ibrahim Bangura was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and he has family in the northern district of Kambia.

Even as a native Sierra Leonean, though, he didn’t grasp the depth of medical need in his own nation until he joined Mercy Ships as a national crewmember.

“I live in the country, but I’ve never seen people with such kind of sicknesses, with huge tumors,” he said. “People with cleft lips. … I’ve never seen that in my life.”

Medical conditions often develop more severely in rural areas, where people have trouble getting to a hospital. In 2011, as Ibrahim began working with the Africa Mercy® in Freetown, he saw patients who had journeyed from all over the country to be treated. It was like nothing he had ever experienced.

“This is where my journey started,” he said. “I got inspired.”


Sierra Leonean Mercy Ships Volunteer Gets Ready to Welcome the Global Mercy™

When David Kpakiwa thinks about the surgical need in his home country of Sierra Leone, he gets emotional. 

It’s not just because he cares about his countrymen and women. 

It’s because for him, this issue hits close to home. 

“When I was a kid, my mom got sick and she needed surgery,” he said. “But in our community, they could not provide that.” 

David’s mother would have to leave their home in the Kono District to find treatment, but the travel was too expensive. David was young, but he carried a lot of responsibility as a provider for his family. He began supporting his family at the age of 8, working long hours on a farm to bring home money to his mother. 

“I spent a lot of time looking at my mom’s suffering,” he said. 

Although she was finally able to get the help she needed, David never forgot the experience. 

“The memories are there,” he said. “They’re fresh.” 

David’s family is not unique among Sierra Leoneans. There are fewer than three surgeons for every 100,000 people in the population, but those surgeons are distributed unequally across the country. That means surgical care is inaccessible to the majority of people. Estimates of the unmet surgical need in Sierra Leone reach as high as 91%. 

David’s mother was just one of those people who couldn’t access the care she desperately needed – leaving a lasting impact on those who loved her most. That’s why now, years later, as David prepares the way for the Global Mercy™ to arrive in Freetown, Sierra Leone, he takes his job personally. 


The Next Chapter: Igniting Hope and Multiplying Impact in Sierra Leone

Growing up on board the floating hospitals of Mercy Ships, Dr. Sandra Lako’s childhood was anything but normal. She was just a teenager when she first sailed into Sierra Leone and encountered a country that would define the course of her life.

There, Sandra left the hospital ship to accompany a medical team as they set up a clinic in a village outside of Freetown, tending to a measles outbreak. Sandra spent the week sitting with mothers who were bringing their sick children for care.

“Of course, I was a teenager, so not skilled to actually help medically, but I was able to help the moms who were giving their children fluids to rehydrate them,” remembers Sandra. “Sadly, a couple of children died that week. That really had an impact on me… Those experiences are really what determined my plans to go to medical school.”

Sandra went on to study medicine in her home country of the Netherlands. Years later, she returned to Sierra Leone to help establish a Mercy Ships health facility in Freetown, providing obstetric fistula care for women with childbirth injuries as well as child health services.

Eighteen years later, Sandra still calls Sierra Leone home.

Healed After 27 Years: Coumba’s Journey

Coumba was at her family’s farm on the day that her life changed forever. 

“Our mother used to cook with fire,” she said. “It was a big farm, so my mother would start a fire in one place, then go to another. My little brother was playing by the fire, got too close, and started to burn.” 

At just 4 years old, Coumba rushed in to save her brother as the fire grew. 

“I fell on my left side, so I burned there,” Coumba said. “My brother was then crying a lot, which my mother heard, so she came to us, but I was already entirely burnt on my left side.” 

With her left arm fused in a bent position and her hand damaged, Coumba adjusted to life with only one functional arm and hand. She grew up to marry, work as a maid, and raise three children on their rice and vegetable farm in northern Senegal. Coumba longed to take care of the farm herself, like many other women do in Senegal, but her limited range of motion made this dream impossible. 

After decades of living with a bent arm, surgery on the Africa Mercy® meant that at the age of 31, Coumba’s life was about to change. 


From the Brink of Death to New Life: How One Act of Kindness Changed Everything

For Catherine Conteh, there’s a moment from the birth of her daughter that still plays over and over in her mind, 30 years later. She had been lying in her hospital bed in Sierra Leone, in labor, writhing in untreated pain, for four days straight. The doctors told her that due to complications with her labor, she needed a Caesarean section surgery – one that 18-year-old Catherine and her husband, Augustine, couldn’t afford. Without payment up front, she would not be given the surgery.