2017: First Two Months

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2017: First Two Months

How is it the end of February already?! Time flies so fast on the ship. It feels like the other day I was in Texas warding off chiggers. Now I'm hitting the tail end of the Benin field service! Just a recap, here are some stats from January: 

  • 302 OR visits from 285 unique patients
  • 346 X-Rays Completed
  • 1,885 Lab Tests Completed
  • 28 Units of Blood Transfusions
  • 830 Unique Dental Patients
  • 361 Outpatient Visits
  • 3,759 Eye Patient Encounters for Assessment and Treatment
  • 177 Eye Surgeries Performed
  • 1,228 Patient Encounters at the Eye Clinic

It's so gratifying to be a part of something that leaves such a lasting impact. Below is a video I edited showing you what I've been up to these last few months. I hope you enjoy. :)


Remember the photo I took that was published? I want to tell you about Mabouba. During that time, she captured the hearts of the entire Communications team. Below is an excerpt one of the writers onboard wrote.

Mabouba first came to the Africa Mercy in a peach-colored dress, a thin veil waving around her face and flapping against her swollen cheek. Her dress whipped around her frail legs as she climbed the gangway, her ascent slow and labored. That day, no one had any idea what Mabouba had been through for the last six years, nor how close her brush with death was yet to be. 

“It was in 2010 that it started,” the 23-year-old recalls. Mabouba was finishing up her junior year of high school with plans to become a midwife. Then the tumor appeared, and everything changed. For the next six years, Mabouba remained at home, staying with her elder brother in Togo while the rest of her family lived abroad in Switzerland.  

By 2014, her tumor had grown so much that it began to block Mabouba’s esophagus and windpipe. “It had become very hard for her to eat, even to breathe,” recalls her Uncle Yousef, shaking his head. “Even in the night you could hear – she was drawing air with great difficulty.” Unable to swallow more than little bits of rice, eggs and torn-up morsels of bread, the young woman began to starve. Uncles, grandparents and cousins gathered what money they could and sent Mabouba to Ghana for surgery.  

But there, calamity struck. “The doctors said they had to remove some teeth before they could remove her tumor,” recalls her Uncle Yousef. “But something went wrong, and she was bleeding, bleeding, bleeding everywhere.” He looks down as he recalls this. “She almost died.” 

With the precious money gone and her health in shards, Mabouba returned home. “Those days my mind was preoccupied with the tumor,” she recounts. “I could think of little else.”  

In January 2016 Mabouba’s father came to Togo to see her. Shocked by her condition, he contacted the Swiss Mercy Ships office and found out that the floating hospital would be coming back to Benin that very August … and, yes, Mabouba would be seen.   

Finally, on September 17th, 2016, the young woman arrived at the ship and slowly lifted her feather-light frame up the gangway. “When I finally stepped onboard, I felt immediately different.” she recounts. This moment had been six years coming. “I said to myself then, ‘I’m already healed.’”  

After nine long hours, Mabouba was finally wheeled out of the operating theater. Miracle of all miracles, her tumor was gone. 

“I remember when I woke up – I was transformed. I was a new person,” Mabouba recalls, wiping tears from her eyes. “You have saved my life, and I don’t know how to thank you. But God says when you care for your neighbor, heaven will be guaranteed for you. So I wish you heaven.”


Thank you for your love, and thank you for your support. It's been an incredible and eye opening journey. 

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Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year!

December was a whirlwind of a month. I was able to go home, refresh with family, and go back to the ship to begin the tail end of my commitment. I'm grateful for award miles that were able to get me home for the holidays. 

Coming back was bittersweet. On the one hand, I must admit I miss my family a loved ones a lot. On the other hand, I get to continue doing something I LOVE. Getting to see patients like Djazim get discharged and be able to go to school, play soccer, and dance like nobody's business is incredible. Below are some before, middle, and after shots!

In other news, I'm officially published! My photo was featured in the Lancet Medical Journal. It's surreal to see one of your photos in print, and being able to shed light to need of safe surgical care. 

As we go into the new year, I just want to say THANK YOU...for supporting me, and for believing in me. Trust me when I say, this organization is doing great things. Thanks for partnering with us. 

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Christelle - Home Visit

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Christelle - Home Visit

I went on my first home visit to document the progress of a beautiful young lady who had a cleft lip repair. She was a patient we treated in 2009, and it's truly overwhelming to see what safe surgery can do to change a life. Christelle is now able to eat properly, go to school, and get an education. 

photo by katie callow

photo by katie callow

The day started early in the morning with a three hour drive to Abomey, a city in central Benin. We met up with the village chief (uhhh I met a village chief!) so he could guide us into the village. We were greeted with smiling faces, open hearts, and true West African hospitality. The entire village came out and greeted each one of us. They gave us a tour of the compound, and put out chairs in the central area so we could all converse (through our translator of course). 

All this fanfare caused Christelle to be a little timid. Can you imagine? Everyone you know is out greeting visitors who have come from across the world to see you. To film you. To document your progress. However, behind shy little eyes was a young woman full of joy. Us yovos (white people) had to work a little harder to see her smile, so we cracked jokes, danced a little, and did everything we could so she would feel comfortable around us. Even our translator made a fool of himself to make them laugh.

photos by katie callow

After getting a tour of the village and chatting with the locals, we set up our gear and prepared for our video interview with Christelle. We weren’t expecting an audience, but alas, the entire village wanted to watch. Thank God for the village chief, who was responsible for keeping them quiet. After they understood, the entire group shushed anyone walking by. They went so far as running after a man on a motorcycle to tell him to stop. 

photo by katie callow

photo by katie callow

In West African fashion, what was supposed to take three hours ended up being an entire day in the village. Remember the hospitality I was talking about? We weren't allowed to leave until we had some ~very warm~ sodas the village provided. We asked our translator, "Must we drink these?" His response, "Yes."

All in all, it was a great day celebrating seven years of restored health and a new life.

Below are some Behind the Scenes shots. 

When the going gets tough, these are the days that make it all worth it. Nothing is more exhilarating than seeing the tangible results of what we do. I'm truly humbled and privileged to be able to document these stories. I think I have the best job on the ship, but everyone here thinks the same about theirs. 

 

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Village Adventure

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Village Adventure

A few weekends ago, we decided to drive two hours north to "hike" a "forest" (AKA walk through bushes and trees). However, we stumbled into a remote village, which led to some interesting adventures. See some wonderful pictures below :)

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Screening and Following Patients

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Screening and Following Patients

photo by timmy baskerville

photo by timmy baskerville

My oh my. We arrived to Benin on Thursday, August 18th, and it's been nonstop since then. That Monday, we began screening for patients. The short of it is, thousands of people line up to be seen, our group of wonderful screening nurses assess whether or not we can help them, and, if chosen, are scheduled for a screening with their respective surgeon. However, because we have concentrated medical specializations, we have to turn a lot of people away. For me, that's been the hardest part - and I'm not even the one handing out the no's. 

I realize the desperate need for adequate health care here. Thousands lined up, pushed their way to be seen, just to be told "no." It was quite a sobering experience.

"How can I stick a camera in their face?" I kept telling myself. After a few days of waking up at the crack of dawn to work the screening lines, I couldn't quite hold it together anymore. I headed to the break room, and had the cry I've been needing since day one.

photo by katie callow

photo by katie callow

In order to cope, I started focusing on the patients that we could help rather than the ones we couldn't. We're helping thousands of people who now have a chance at a new life and new hope. 

See, what I realized is the stories of the patients and this organization need to be told. I recall the videos and photos I watched that impacted me to volunteer in the first place; if it weren't for these resources, people wouldn't know the amazing work Mercy Ships does to provide surgeries at no cost to those receiving help.

After a period of time in the breakroom, I reminded myself why I've been wanting to do this for four years. To tell the stories that need to be heard. To be a light using my gifts in any which way possible. To see the children's smiles whenever I turn the camera so they can see themselves on the screen. 

photo by timmy baskerville

photo by timmy baskerville

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