Posted April 10, 2012
Dr. Andrew Kirkpatrick – a well-known Calgary trauma surgeon professor of surgery and critical Care at the University of Calgary's Faculty of Medicine – is taking his expertise overseas to deliver free medical care onboard the world’s largest charity hospital ship.
Kirkpatrick will join the charity Mercy Ships this May in Togo, West Africa for two weeks onboard the Africa Mercy - a rail-ferry-turned-medical vessel. He will work alongside roughly 450 volunteers from upwards of 40 nationalities, each paying their own way to be there, to provide life-saving medical care for some of the world’s most impoverished people.
The ship spends an average of 10 months in each host country performing surgeries and offering developmental programs and training to locals, completely free of charge.
Kirkpatrick says about his venture, “I was a medical student in Sierra Leone and always wanted to return [to West Africa]. I was drawn to Mercy Ships because respected and valued colleagues told me how rewarding it was.”
His peer, Dr. Alex Gregory, spent four weeks onboard the vessel this year and shared with Kirkpatrick how powerful the experience was.
“It was one of the most interesting and fulfilling experiences I have ever had,” Gregory says. “You cannot understand or even imagine the daily struggles that other people in the world overcome until you see it face to face. I think that my time with Mercy Ships allowed me to show my gratitude for life by sharing my time and effort with others.
“It is no doubt a one-of-a-kind experience from a medical standpoint. But more importantly, it offers physicians a chance to challenge themselves and seek personal growth outside of medicine,” he says.
Mercy Ships medical staff encounter extreme health cases, most of which could be cleared in early stages if medical care was more accessible. Huge goiters, blindness from cataracts and humiliating fistulas leave West Africans physically damaged and with a loss of dignity, resulting from a 2 to 10,000 physician-patient ratio.
Medical Device Reprocessing teacher Christina Fast also recently returned home from the Africa Mercy where she says the atmosphere was uniquely positive, especially in the operating room.
“They bring out the best in you and are supportive in every way,” she says of fellow crew members.
Fast was touched by the hopeful spirits of the patients. “Their stories are so heartbreaking,” she says, “but you would never know it by how bright their smiles are. I arrived on the ship expecting to perform a volunteer service and I left with so much more.”
The sterilization specialist was stunned when she witnessed the inadequate conditions of sanitation in West African clinics due to lack of basic cleaning equipment. “They have an almost 90% infection rate, if the patient even makes it off the table,” she says.
Fast is now in the works of creating an NGO, Assisting Medical Device Reprocessors Worldwide, which will work toward building a suitable system for sterilization in developing countries.
Kirkpatrick, Gregory and Fast are part of a group of over 20 Calgarians who have volunteered with Mercy Ships in the last three years. Canadian National Director of Mercy Ships, Tim Maloney, says, “Mercy Ships is truly grateful for the Calgarians who have chosen to do what they can to support the work of bringing hope and healing to the world’s poor. We are proud of our volunteers and thankful for the generous spirit of the city.”
The charity, founded in 1978, has provided over one billion dollars worth of free medical services to date in over 70 countries. For more information visit www.mercyships.ca.
ABOUT MERCY SHIPS
Mercy Ships and the Africa Mercy provide primary medical care, relief aid and community support to the most impoverished people on earth, free of charge. Mercy Ships is an international Christian charity that has operated hospital ships in developing nations since 1978. Following the example of Jesus, Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the poor, mobilizing people and resources worldwide.
Mercy Ships Canada, one of 16 international offices, is based in Victoria, BC.