Beauty and Restoration

Mercy Ships mission statement says that we are to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor by following the two thousand year old model of Jesus Christ.

What does this mean? What is hope and healing?

Healing is probably a little more obvious.

We perform lifesaving surgeries.

Tumors are removed that if left to grow can and often will kill the patient.

Photo Credit Katie Keegan - Patricia (MGC07074) before surgery

Patricia before surgery – photo credit Katie Keegan

Cleft lips and pallets are repaired allowing infants to eat properly and be restored to nutritious healthy lives.  We restore women’s lives by repairing obstetric fistulas that have caused them to be social outcasts in their communities.  We straighten the legs of children allowing them to live lives unhindered by what these deformities could cause.

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Fifaliana before surgery – phot0 credit Ruben Plomp

 

We graft burn contractures that restrict or in some cases eliminate movement of necks, arms and legs.

We donate our own blood to allow for these surgeries to take place.

olivienne blood bags

blood used for a single surgery – photo credit Silke Kessing

 

That is healing but what does it mean to bring hope?

I have heard stories of patients who travel across the whole country because they have heard of a ship that may be able to help them.

Photo Credit Ruben Plomp

Patricia before surgery – photo credit Katie Keegan

This big white surgical ship brings hope just by entering a country providing the opportunity for sick and injured people to receive care that would typically be unavailable or too expensive to afford.  This is all before the surgery actually takes place but what about the hope that we bring after surgery.

 

There is hope in restoration.

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OBF Dress Ceremony at the HOPE Center – photo credit Katie Keegan

 

Most of our patients have given up on a chance at a “normal” life.  The woman’s health ladies have often lost children in pregnancy, are left incontinent and often cast out of their homes.  Orthopedic children may not be aware of what lies ahead of them but even in these young, precious patients we can see a sadness about being “different” than the other kids with the inability to walk, run and play.  We know that as adults these kids would not be able to sustain the same kind of work with deformed legs.  Many of our tumor patients have given up on life completely watching the tumor grow larger and larger taking more of their ability to eat and breath.  We give these patients hope in new life.

But we do more than this

Joy is returned to these patient’s lives.

 

Beauty is returned to these patient’s lives.

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Patricia at her final discharge appointment – photo credit Justine Forrest

 

Love is returned to these patient’s lives

 

Jesus came to restore the Kingdom of Heaven.  At creation the Garden of Eden was a place of perfection.  There was no hurt or pain or sickness or sadness or turmoil.  When Jesus says that he comes to seek and save the lost he isn’t just talking about salvation in redemption from sin, he is talking about redemption from a sinful world and restoration into perfection with him.

Are we making these patient’s lives perfect?  No.  But we are helping to restore some of the beauty that was robbed.

Beyond this, we are showing these patients the love of Jesus and the hope and healing that he brings.  We come and volunteer our time, money, sweat, tears and blood but we can only bring restoration to a point.  Jesus is the only one who can bring full restoration inside and out.

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Fifaliana plays in the ward after – photo credit Katie Keegan

Jesus brings hope to a hurting world and light to the darkness.  He brings the promise of perfection with him in heaven and a love that will never fail or disappoint.

This Christmas let’s not forget what we are celebrating.  Christmas is so much more than presents and it is even more than families.  Christmas is about a way out of this broken life and a way into restoration.

This Christmas take time to look at your life and see how Jesus has brought hope and healing to it or how you can bring this hope and healing to others.  You don’t have to be in Madagascar or somewhere else in Africa or another third-world country.  Being a light of hope and love to those around you in the midst of darkness and hurt can be done anywhere.

One thing I have learned is that people are people no matter where they are and we can all use a little hope and healing, especially around Christmas.

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8 by Friday

Faith is an interesting thing, prayer even stranger.  To think that I can intercede on the behalf of another person to the almighty God for healing and not only believe it will have an effect but wait in anticipation for the results is nothing short of mind blowing.

There was recently a patient on the ward who underwent a total thyroidectomy back in February.  Unfortunately, in the process her parathyroid gland was disturbed and stopped functioning properly.  Why is this important?  The parathyroid is responsible for controlling calcium in the body.  Calcium is necessary for nerve communication and muscle contraction.

Photo Credit Justine Forrest, Dr AJ Collins (AUS) General Surgeon and Dr Shehnarz Salindera (AUS) General Surgeon PAT16147 Hanta

Photo Credit Justine Forrest, Dr AJ Collins (AUS) General Surgeon and Dr Shehnarz Salindera (AUS) General Surgeon 

This patient, Gloria*, was receiving copious amounts of IV calcium as well as oral and still she was symptomatic with labs well under the normal range (8.4-10.2 mg/dL).  Week after week she continued on the medication without seeing any results.  It was to the point that, in my opinion, all medical options were exhausted and still no improvement.

One Saturday evening I was praying for Gloria and I felt the Lord say “8 by Friday.”  If this was her calcium it was a great deal above what she had been running and frankly seemed impossible but who am I to argue with the Great Physician.  The following Monday the general surgery team leader informed me that the goal for this patient was to have her calcium reach 8 mg/dL by Friday.  I just nodded and said, “Yeah, I think it will be.”  Little did she know the confidence in which I was making this statement.

As the week progressed Gloria’s calcium was steadily increasing as her dose was also increasing.  By Thursday she reached 8.4 mg/dL.  We were all in awe.  Friday morning I eagerly awaited her result.  It was exactly 8.0.  I almost started crying.  However, in the days that followed her medication was weaned back resulting in her levels once again dropping.  Many people onboard were discouraged and doubted if she would ever be healed.  Gloria herself started doubting.  Sure, she was 8 by Friday but she was also on a mega-dose of calcium so those levels weren’t necessarily a reflection of her true condition.  For me though, it didn’t matter how she got there, God was saying “I’m still in control.”

Weeks went by and still no improvement.  “God, where are you?”  One night I was reading my Bible and came across this verse in the book of Habakkuk

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.

Habakkuk 3:2

I heard God once again speaking to me, this time simply saying “I will heal her.”  I was overwhelmed and convinced that this would be my declaration the day Gloria was healed – I would stand in awe of the Lord’s deeds!  I have seen that God works on his own time table in his own ways and who am I to doubt or question.  The only thing I can do is pray and have faith in his Word and his promises.

Fast forward of few weeks and Gloria’s levels are once again rising.  This time her dose was either remaining the same or steadily decreasing.  She was taken off IV calcium and still her levels remained in range.  Her oral dose was decreased and still she was on target.  Last week Gloria was discharged.  The day before she was sent home there was a party on the ward for her.  Our physician who has been managing Gloria’s care for the last 4 months walked over to her and put her arm around her – Gloria had tears running down her cheeks.  I’m sure she thought the day would never come.  There were a lot of people on the ship who thought the day would never come, myself included.

Photo Credit Catrice Wulf - Ward nurse Maria Geary (USA) cares for patient

Photo Credit Catrice Wulf – Ward nurse Maria Geary (USA) cares for patient

Gloria is not totally off medication but she is now on a much more manageable, oral dose with continued improvement.  I know God is not done.  I know he will heal her fully.  I know that he does things for his purpose and his time so he receives the glory.

On the day she was discharged a friend of mine and nurse on the ward was excitedly saying she too was amazed that Gloria has finally been discharged and said “Doesn’t it make you want to say ‘Go team.’”  I looked at her and said “No, it makes me want to say, ‘Go God.’”

We had nothing to do with her healing and I fully believe that.

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*The patient’s name in this post has been changed to protect confidentiality of the individual.

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saved by an army

For the life of a creature is in the blood – Leviticus 17:11

There is life in the blood – this verse took on new meaning to me when I became a lab tech and started to work in blood bank.  There are many things that have to function properly to keep you alive but one of the most basic is your need for blood.

The little complex cells carry oxygen to every inch of your body – every organ, every tissue – and nothing will work properly if there is no blood.  Luckily for us, God designed our bodies to be able to receive and use blood from another person.  All a patient must do is consent and let the army of blood donors take care of them.

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With that in mind, this is the story of Sambany and his walking blood bank.

Sambany is a name I first came across when his CBC (complete blood count: measures your red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin and hematocrit along with some other things) came into the lab from screening and admissions down on the dock.  Sambany’s hemoglobin was 3.8 g/dl.  Just as a point of reverence a normal hemoglobin is 12-16 g/dl and is a measurement of the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood.

3.8 is by far the lowest “walking hemoglobin” I have ever seen.  By that I mean this patient was not brought in by ambulance bleeding out in the emergency department.  He walked (or was carried/driven) to the ship.  He walked up the gangway and walked down 2 decks of stairs for his CT and admission into the ward.  When I see a number like that I wonder how it is possible.  At home I would question contamination from an IV line since surely this man was not standing upright with a third less hemoglobin than normal.

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Without knowing anything else about this man or why he was coming to the ship I asked my techs to get a quick blood type on him just to see what we were dealing with.  Luckily he is an A positive – a blood type that is very common.  We reported the hemoglobin back down to the dock and found out if the doctor was planning on transfusing any blood and if so how much.

Sure enough, three units of blood were ordered for Sambany.  By this point I found out that this patient had been traveling for three days with a tumor twice the size of his head which he had been living with for 19 years.  The next step for us in the lab was to see how many units of Apos blood were collected and banked, how many donors were already tested and ready to collect and how many donors had volunteered.

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Here on the Africa Mercy all of the blood for the surgeries is donated by crew members and it is part of my job to manage this unique blood bank.  At home when I realize I am going to need more blood for a patient or a particular surgery I call local hospitals to see if they can spare any or call the Red Cross and have them express deliver the exact amount of units to the hospital.  Here when I need blood I go up to the café or dining room or pool or into the hospital and start tracking down my donors. “Has anybody seen ________, I need his blood?”

Over that night and the following few days 5 units of blood were given which raised Sambany’s hemoglobin to 8.9 g/dl.  Once surgery was scheduled we started planning for how many donors we would need.

Initially we were asked to crossmatch 8 units of blood – some fresh (donated the day of surgery) and some banked.  I started lining up donors and setting up appointments for them to come in the day of surgery beginning at 0830 in the morning.  Throughout the day the anesthetist was slowly requesting unit by unit.  The surgery was going well and despite being a vascular tumor the bleeding was under control.  As the surgery continued we waited patiently for the tumor to be out.

Photo Credit Katie Keegan

After dinner things started to pick up.  We had arranged for two more donors to come in and donate more as a precaution overnight but those units quickly were brought to the OR as well and they asked for two more.  At this point most of my donors who had been “on-call” during the day had scattered and I started finding anyone on the ship I knew was an Apos.  Luckily we have an early curfew and everybody has to be back onboard by 9pm.  I found a few more donors however these units were quickly picked up by the anesthetist and brought into the OR.  It was almost 10 o’clock at night.

Rachel, the maxillofacial team leader, who was also waiting for Sambany to be out of surgery so she could admit him back to the ward walked past the blood drawing room.  I looked at her and said “Rach, you’re Apos, can we take your blood too?”  She enthusiastically agreed and as we were collecting her unit the anesthetist came for one more unit and to inform us the tumor was out.  After Rachel the last unit I drew was from Kirstie, our hospital director, who I called in her cabin to come down at 1030pm to donate her blood.

Over the course of that day Sambany received 11 units of blood in the OR – 8 fresh, 3 banked.  He received another unit the next morning to bring his total from time of admission to 17 units of blood all donated by our amazing crew members.  These 17 units came from crew from six different countries (US, Canada, UK, Australia, Norway and Malaysia) working in departments on the ship ranging from hospital to hospitality, sales to security and things in between.

Photo Credit Katie Keegan

Sambany with 13 of his blood donors

Sambany with our lab team

Sambany with me and my lab team

After the 7.46kg (16.45lb) tumor was out and we were finishing up in the lab I was thanking Rachel for donating when she looked at me and said, “Thank you.  You guys are the ones who kept him alive.”  While this is possibly the nicest thing that has ever been said from a nurse to a lab tech and I appreciate it more deeply than she understands it is the amazing crew who kept Sambany alive.  Without their blood he would have died.

Photo Credit Katie Keegan

first time seeing himself after surgery

The life of a creature is in the blood.  While this verse is talking about sacrifice, atonement and foreshadowing Christ’s own blood given as a sacrifice for all of our sins, the fact remains the same – the life is in the blood.

Thank you to the army of blood donors who helped keep this patient and all our patients alive and who make these life changing surgeries possible.

Photo Credit Katie Keegan

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