All you've got.

28 May 2013

You’d better find a translator quick – because Hasanatu has a lot to say.

Known affectionately by crew as Mama H, Hasanatu had surgery in January to remove a massive facial tumor. Pull up a chair, and she will tell you all about her favorite food (rice), her four children (boys), her disdain for air conditioning (she’s freezing), her journey here by taxi (prolonged), and her village in Guinea’s interior (it’s that way [points]).

But first, Mama H will tell you that it’s not just the hospital that makes surgery possible – it is the attitude of giving in the heart of each volunteer. Time, money, energy – whatever crewmembers can give, they will give. Because Mama H knows something that most people do not:  the crew of the Africa Mercy serves as the hospital’s blood bank.

Blood banking is an intrinsic part of every hospital system in the developed world – one that requires laboratory equipment, space and highly specialized technicians. On the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, there are still limited resources to store blood. But what the Africa Mercy hospital lacks in storage capacity, it makes up for in its steady supply of willing volunteers. Without our crew donors, surgeries like Mama H’s would not be possible.

“When you need clotting factors and platelets, you need the blood to come straight out of one person and right into the next,” Dr. Gary Parker, the Africa Mercy’s Chief Medical Officer, says. “The outcomes of many of our surgeries are possible because the crew is willing to share their blood with our patients.”
Due to the location of Hasanatu’s tumor on her head and neck, excessive blood loss during her surgery was inevitable. Before her operation, a message went out to volunteers with her blood type: “We need you.” Soon, nine Mercy Ships crewmembers had donated blood to ensure that doctors would be able to replenish whatever Mama H might need.

“I remember how excited she was about getting her surgery,” Mar Morales, a blood donor, says. “It is wonderful to be able to say that I contributed to her recovery!”

On the evening after her surgery, Mama H woke up in a hospital bed, finally free of the tumor she had carried for a decade. Emily Seamon – an ICU nurse and blood donor for Mama H – handed her a mirror.
“It was a unique experience, to be a caregiver in this way,” Emily says. “As a nurse, I understood the need for the blood donation and how important it was for Hasanatu … it was wonderful to care for my patient and to be a part of the picture from beginning to end, to see it come full circle.”

When Mama H saw her reflection, she smiled. For the first (and probably last) time in her life, she was unable to find words to say. It was a few days before she was back to her chatty ways. But, when she felt like herself again, she said to tell her blood donors “djarama” – thank you. In return, she would like to teach them Pular, her native language. That way, her stories won’t depend on a translator anymore.

“It’s amazing – so many patients over the years … they’re alive today because the crew of the ship shared their blood,” Dr. Gary says. “I can’t even start counting them now, but there are many, many, people we never would have started surgery on … so I’m grateful for everyone who’s given and who will continue to give in the future.”

Pull up a chair, and there isn’t a Mercy Ships patient who won’t steal your heart. Time, money, energy, blood – being a crewmember on the Africa Mercy means giving it all you’ve got . . . and loving every minute!

Hasanatu’s Blood Donors:
Amber Batson (Ward Nurse, New Zealand)
Esther Blaum (Patient Flow Manager, Germany)
Laura Coles (Ward Nurse, USA)
Mar Morales (Receptionist, Mexico)
Nicole Pugh (Human Resources Facilitator, USA)
Emily Seamon (ICU Nurse, USA)
Kevin Trapnell (Crew Physician, USA)
Lianne van den Dorpel (Galley, The Netherlands)
Josh Young (Sales Manager, USA)

Story by Catherine Clarke Murphy
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell (and interior screening photo by Chris McCaffrey)

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