Johnson Mpika is an eleven year old boy from Pointe Noire, Republic of The Congo. But he is different from his friends. He is intelligent, more than the average for his age it would appear. He is friendly, loved by his grandpa who takes care of him. But he is deaf, mute and his face is scarred.
A ‘scratch’ on his arm as a baby and his life would have been totally different. For the cost of 50 cents per dose of the MMR vaccine, that includes the measles vaccine, all would have been different for him. Johnson got measles at the age of 3. It affected his ears and left him totally deaf. And without hearing he could never learn to talk. And Noma ..., an infective disease of the face that affects almost exclusively the poor whose immune status is suppressed by their poor nutrition and this disease then typically attack these children round the age of 3 years during any childhood infective disease that would further supress their immune system, like measles. Johnson’s situation. Ninety percent of these children affected by measles and Noma will die in the acute phase. Johnson was one of the 10% that survived but was left deaf, mute and scarred. He still suffers from chronic ear infection. A simple measles vaccine could have prevented this tragic line of events in his life.
On board the M/V Africa Mercy the plastic and reconstructive surgery service provides free surgeries to patients like Johnson to restore dignity, self-confidence and functional defects like in Johnson also opening of his right sided blocked airway.
He was operated on board the hospital ship in September 2013, seen again January 2014 and has had a final stage surgery in the last two weeks. Johnston, a real delight on the ward, quickly adapted to his new circumstances being surrounded by so many nurses who serve in the love of Christ as volunteers, tangible love that these patients experience as they are being cared for.
We have done 131 plastic and reconstructive surgeries (often more than one procedure on the same patient eg bilateral hands, or hand and neck, etc) on 103 patients in September/October 2013 and expect about the same numbers for this second phase of plastic surgery in January/February 2014. Wonderful team of OR nurses, ward nurses, dressing team nurses and rehabilitation team working very hard! Close to forty volunteers in the plastic surgical team! The M/V Africa Mercy is a surgical hospital ship and serves the poorest of the poor with free surgeries including general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, maxillo facial surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, eye surgery and gynaecological operations.
For me personally the journey started in February 2000 with my first visit as volunteer plastic and reconstructive surgeon on the M/V Anastasis in The Gambia, West Africa. Touched by the deep need of the poor and by the tangible love of God nothing in my life has ever been the same again. And the closeness of God I will never trade for anything in the world.