Wednesday, December 5, 2012

and hope does not disappoint

"Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:5 NKJV

Theirno, who had the large tumor in his face, got his surgery.  A few hours after the 9 hour surgery, he was asking for something to eat. It has now been more than 4 weeks since the surgery and he is a changed person. Before surgery we told him he had to gain enough weight to weigh more than me. This week he weighed a whole 5 kg more than me!

I remember how hopeless he was the first time I met him. He had lived that way for more than 5 years. I can't imagine the amount of patience it took for Thierno to wait, when he was waiting with no hope. I almost didn't have hope for him, there was only a small chance he would be able to have surgery or even survive the surgery. This week he told us that before his surgery we had given him hope, because he had lost it all. 

So often I lose hope, I think things will never change. I don't have faith that God is a big enough God to work in my life. I let fear and insecurity dictate how I live my life instead of giving control to God. Instead I want to live my life with hope, hope that God will come through, places in my life will be healed and I will become the person God created me to be.

I Lift My Eyes Up (Psalm 121) by Brian Doerksen
"I lift my eyes up,
to the mountains
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from you,
Maker of heaven,
Creator of the earth.

O how I need you Lord,
You are my only hope,
You are my only prayer
So I will wait for you
To come and rescue me,
Come and give me life."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

missing pieces

Today I went to visit a Guinean man who has a huge tumor growing up into his face and mouth. It has been growing for the past 5 years and he hasn't been able to eat anything solid for the past 2 years. Before the tumor started growing he was a professional football star for the Guinea national team, everyone knew who he was. When I look at him now, I can't tell what he used to look like because the tumor is all I can see. It bulges out of the side of his face and he keeps part of it covered up, the part that is oozing out of his mouth. The only way he can drink is to pull his cheek away and stick a syringe into a small pocket in the back of his mouth. Flies buzz around him all the time and the eye that is being pushed out by the tumor weeps constantly. At home he sits in a small room on a mattress on the floor with his head over a bucket to catch the dripping fluids.

We are waiting for the biopsy report to come back to find out if the tumor is cancerous. I am seeing him to see if he can gain at least 7kg by November when the right surgeons will be here to do the surgery. Not being able to eat solid foods for 2 years has made him emaciated. He is so weak it is difficult for him to walk and he is in constant pain from the pressure of his neck holding up the tumor. Today he had lost weight instead of gaining and the tumor has started growing faster. It's becoming harder for him to swallow and the pain from the tumor is becoming more intense. Today I prayed with him before we left; for the tumor to stop growing, for him to gain weight, for him to stay alive until he is able to have surgery. Without turning to God it felt so hopeless, and without Him it is.

I can't possibly imagine what it is like to have that happen to me. To have a lump on my face, it start to grow and not be able to do anything about it. Not only to have it grow but to have it completely take over my face and mouth. For me to hide in a room all day with my face dripping in a bucket and flies swarming around me. To know that I have something so strange and ugly on my face that I am afraid to leave my room because people will stare and be disgusted. To wake up and wonder how much bigger it will get today, how many more days until I suffocate to death or can't swallow anymore.

He lives with this ugliness on his face, slowly sucking the life out of him, visible for everyone to see. I started to wonder today, what if we all lived with our ugliness on our face, out in the open, like a huge tumor. All of the ugly flaws and missing pieces of our character we hide from everyone, right there. I know I have uglyness hidden deep down, until someone or something brings it up. The trouble is I don't know how to get rid of it by myself. I try, sometimes I succeed a little bit but mostly I fail.  I can' t remove a tumor from my face, and I can't take out my ugly flaws either.  Only a master surgeon can cut out a huge tumor and fill in the missing places in someone's face. Only God can help me cut away the hidden ugly tumors in my heart and replace the missing pieces. Only God can make something of a man's hopeless situation.

"Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I'm about; see for yourself whether I've done anything wrong - then guide me on the road to eternal life." Psalm 139:23-24 (The Message)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Screening day and a blast from the past

On screening day in Conakry, Guinea the crowds seemed to go on and on. 

My job was the Infant Feeding station and see any babies that the surgeons thought might be too small for surgery.

This little girl only weighs a little over 2 kilograms.
Suilaman when he came to the infant feeding program.
After a couple of months he was fat, happy and had his lip fixed. 
The best part of screening day was when I spotted this mom and baby. Suilaman was one of the first babies I had in the Infant feeding program in Sierra Leone over a year and a half ago and was significantly malnourished. His mom was one of my favorite people in Sierra Leone and always took really good care of him and did everything I told her. He fattened up quickly and got surgery for his cleft lip but he still needed his cleft palate fixed when he was a year old. I was hoping she would show up on screening day and late in the day I spotted her! It made such a difference for me to be able to see Suilaman over a year old, fat and happy. 

Some Memories of Togo

Having been here in Guinea for a few weeks now I was thinking recently that I never really put up any of my photos of Togo. Every West African country I've been to feels and looks a little different, even if there are many things that are the same. So far Guinea has a feel and look I can't quite describe yet. Here are some of my favorite photos from Togo.

Esther's kitchen

Political rally on the beach road in Lome

Sculpture made of seashells on the beach in Lome

Shoe seller in Lome

Sorting palm nuts at one of the Agriculture teaching sites

Togo Infant Feeding Program

Here is a little update from the field service in Togo, which ended in May. This is a little late but here are the before and after photos of the babies who were in the Infant Feeding Program. The last two photos on the right are of two babies who could not get surgery because of health issues they were born with. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Some photos from the high seas...

So far the sail to Tenerife has been a mix of smooth sailing and a few days of stormy weather. I've seen a hammerhead shark, dolphins, flying fish and a little spout from a whale!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Off to the Bush Bush Bush - The Mercy Ships Agriculture Program in Togo

One of the fun parts of my job in Togo was getting to work with the Agriculture Program. This field service Mercy Ships Agriculture Program partnered with local NGO's in Togo to train them in sustainable farming practices, animal husbandry and nutrition. The goal was to train the trainers, who will then go and continue to teach the concepts in their communities. The participants were provided with teaching, demonstrations, print materials and animals. It was always an adventure to go and teach at the sites, it was really rewarding to see how receptive and enthusiastic the students were to learn. It was also an experience to go out in the "bush bush bush" as Eliphaz, the main trainer for the Agriculture program, said every time we drove out to the remote sites. 

Demonstrating how to give chickens injections in the animal husbandry portion of the Agriculture Program

Eliphaz teaching composting to the trainers

Students reviewing the nutrition teaching handouts with each other

Agriculture teaching upcountry in Togo
One of the NGO's healthy African chickens

My translator, Esther, and I doing our nutrition teaching under the palms in one of the villages

Rabbit cages for the animals donated by the Agriculture Program 

All of the  NGO's fed us lunch and buckets of sweet tea :)

Growing Moringa trees at one of the Agriculture sites. Moringa is a plant high in many nutrients that grows easily in West Africa. One of the goals of the Agriculture program is to promote all the different uses of the Moringa plant and encourage people to grow it. Since it is a good source of protein and many vitamins it can help improve the health of rural communities and prevent malnutrition. 

The last participants posing in front of a successful compost pile

Friday, May 25, 2012

twins update

Remember the twins? Atsou is much fatter now, weighs 6 kg and just got his surgery for the cleft lip.

Atsou gained 2.5kg (5.5 pounds) in 12 weeks, quite a feat for a little guy. He still hasn't quite caught up to his sister Obey yet but that will take a while longer.  Unfortunately their father died last week leaving their mother with these twins and her other set of twins who are older.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

not the only ship in Togo

Recently the US Navy HSV-2 Swift docked behind our ship for a night. It's a hybrid catamaran used for support/humanitarian missions. The initials HSV stands for High Speed Vessel (and according to Google also Herpes Simplex Virus). Since we are a ship of mainly nurses; single, good looking nurses at that, the prospect of Navy guys caused quite a stir. Unfortunately for them, they were only here for a night and only a select few went for a tour. 

Across the port there was also a cruise ship docking for one day, the Ocean Princess. Yes, apparently people do take cruises to Africa! This one had started in South Africa and was on its way to London. After Togo it was stopping in Ghana and then continuing up to Morocco and Spain. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

surgery and saying goodbye

Every time one of the babies in the feeding program receives their surgery I have to admit it's bittersweet for me. I'm overjoyed they are getting surgery. It's amazing to see the moment the moms have been waiting for, when they get to see their baby with a new lip. However, it's then I realize it is now the end of the road for me. My job is done. I might see them a few more times to make sure they're still gaining weight, but afterwards I'll be saying farewell. The 2 or 3 months I watched them grow and gain weight is now over. Realistically I'll probably never see them again or even know if they make it to their 5th birthday. I can only pray they stay safe and healthy. While I love the work I do and the life changing transformations we see every day, there are times I wish goodbyes were not a part of it. 

Today Baby Komlan is getting his surgery for a bilateral cleft lip. He has been in the feeding program since February and after his mom learned a few different techniques he's been able to do really well breastfeeding. His mom is only 18 and not so confident as a new mom, but his proud grandma picks up any slack.  He is now a fat, happy 3 month old and will soon have a new lip!

Monday, May 7, 2012

I always forget how big Africa really is....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Twins

Meet the twins, Obei (pronounced "Obey") and Atsou (pronounced "Achoo"). Believe it or not they are twins, 5 months old.  They've both been breastfed since birth, but the difference is Atsou has a cleft lip and palate. The cleft palate makes it almost impossible for him to create enough suction to get enough milk. No matter how much he breastfeeds he will never be able to get as much milk as Obei. In fact he's most likely been burning more calories feeding than he has been able to take in.

In this photo Obei weighs 7 kg (about 15.4 pounds) and Atsou weighs 3.5 kg (7.7 pounds). While Obei looks huge in this photo, she is actually normal size for a 5 month old. Atsou is just that small! 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

1 year ago.

1 year ago I had no idea what poverty was actually like. 
1 year ago I had never eaten meat without knowing exactly what kind of meat it was. 
1 year ago I had never bought snacks off the top of someone's head. 
1 year ago I had no idea mothers could throw away their babies for a simple deformity. 
1 year ago I had no idea there were places in the world without adequate healthcare. 
1 year ago I had never seen a man carry a refrigerator on his head. 
1 year ago I didn't know where all the used clothes, cars and toys go when no one else wants them.  
1 year ago I thought I knew who I was and what the world was about. 

1 year ago I had never been to Africa.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Supermodel Baby

Here is one of the babies who has already gotten surgery for her cleft lip. My friend Melissa nicknamed her "Supermodel" (read her blog post about it) and other nurses nicknamed her "FluffyHead". Seriously I don't think she could get any cuter! I'm following her for a short time after her surgery to make sure she's gaining weight and doing well. She'll also have a follow-up procedure in 6 weeks. After that she is going to be hard to say goodbye to!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We have to do what?

A hospital on a ship has to think about all kinds of things. Like how to evacuate the entire hospital in case of an emergency. A couple of weeks ago we had a hospital evacuation drill. Using crew members posing as patients they evacuated everyone from the 3rd deck of the ship to the 5th and then down onto the dock! The crazy thing is we have to take people UP the stairs to take them out of the hospital. Here are some photos of practicing before the drill.