60 Minutes: Africa Mercy Free Medical Care & Mercy Ships Charity

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60 Minutes: Africa Mercy

For countless people in underdeveloped stretches of the globe, many medical conditions that Westerners would not think twice about could make the difference between life and death. That is why there is Africa Mercy, “the largest civilian hospital ship on the seas.”

60 Minutes: Evil Spirits Vs Modern Medicine

Scott Pelley reported on the primarily American crew of this vessel that handles patients who believe that their illnesses are caused by “evil spirits.” The 60 Minutes camera crew looked at the culture clash that happens on board the Africa Mercy.

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Inside this ship is not a cruise vacation, but a hospital with “90 nurses, 15 doctors, 78 beds, and six operating rooms.” Maxillo-facial surgeon Dr Gary Parker always meant to see if he could handle life on the ship. After 26 years aboard, I’m guessing he is staying put.

60 Minutes: African Mercy Free Medical Care

60 Minutes: Africa Mercy Free Medical Care & Mercy Ships Charity

60 Minutes went inside the floating hospital Africa Mercy, which travels the coast of West Africa offering free medical care to desperate residents.

In Togo, West Africa, many people live on about $2 per day. When the ship visits, thousands of residents line up for hours in hopes of getting dental care, eye surgery, and treatment for cleft palates or other problems.

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Traveling an 1,800-mile stretch of West Africa, the Africa Mercy handles extremely impoverished populations, where 10% of children might die before reaching age five, of diseases not known in the US, including a rare facial tumor.

60 Minutes: Tooth Enamel Tumors

Dr Parker got the chance to meet up with a patient he first treated 17 years ago. Back in 1995, a tumor was crushing her windpipe, and the crowd carried her to the front of the line.

Edoh, the patient, had a benign tumor of overgrown tooth enamel. A Western dentist would remove this before it ever caused a problem, but in West Africa it is believed to be a curse. How do you teach medicine for doctors who are confronting maladies scrubbed from most modern textbooks?

60 Minutes: Benign Tumor Treatment

Dr Parker said that patients believed to be cursed can be isolated from their populations. Patients are amazed to be greeted when they come to the ship for care. “The healing begins when they get acceptance based on who they are,” he said.

Marta, another patient, has been living with a tumor for three years and was kicked out of her home by her husband. Dr Parker thinks there is no good reason why people in the 21st century should die from a benign condition. To correct Marta’s problem, Dr Parker replaced her jaw with titanium in the first stage of treatment.

60 Minutes: Facial Surgery Self-Confidence

Dr Parker believes that changing the appearance of these people gives them self-confidence that will change their entire lives. Edoh’s recovery process took four surgeries over the course of 17 years.

She told 60 Minutes that she is studying to become a nurse. Ali Chandra, a New Jersey nurse, is one of the people who have worked on the ship. She said she could never go back to a more traditional nursing environment.

60 Minutes: Mercy Ship Humanity

Esther, another tumor patient, was under Ali’s care. As the patient struggled to recover, Ali smiled as she heard Esther’s voice for the first time. Chandra said that she cannot turn away from these people where there is such a need for care.

She said that new nurses do have to deal with some initial shock, but eventually you get over the differences and find ways to connect with patients. It was clear from Chandra’s demeanor, in interviews and with patients, that this is a job about humanity.

60 Minutes: Mercy Ships Review

The Mercy Ships charity dates back to 1978, founded by Texan Don Stephens. Over the past 35 years, hundreds of thousands of patients have boarded the charity’s ships. Corporate sponsors and the dedicated crew make everything possible.

In fact, no one on the staff is paid, and they have to cover their own expenses onboard, often through support and donations from US churches. There is a lot of prayer on the ship, though patients of any faith are accepted with open arms.

60 Minutes: Africa Mercy Sacrifice?

Out in West Africa, the ship must be self-reliant and prepared to face any type of emergency. Staff members tend to stay for years, even raising their children on the ship. Ali Chandra, who is now pregnant, intends to stay on the ship.

She said she does not think of her time on the ship as a sacrifice, and there is not much she misses about her former life.

“You have no idea how awesome this life is. I get to see the world and I get to take care of incredible people. Why would you want to live in a house on land? This is way more fun,” she siad.

60 Minutes: Mercy Ship Love Boat

The boat is known for nurturing romance onboard, and Chandra is one of many who have met their mates on board the ship. Dr Parker also met his wife on board, and they raised their two children on the boat in a tiny cabin.

Though they sometimes have the opportunity to visit or vacation in the United States, they have more than adjusted to life on a boat. But the family appears to be a happy one.

60 Minutes: Africa Mercy Cataract Surgery

Cataracts are a common problem treated on the ship, but the surgery can be completed in just 30 minutes, correcting decades of blindness in some cases.

As for Marta, her tumor was fully removed and she is slated for cosmetic surgery upon the ship’s return. The ship spent five months in Togo during the time 60 Minutes visit, treating hundreds of patients and changing lives forever.

You can learn more about Mercy Ships online at mercyships.org.

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