According to WHO, an estimated 265,000 deaths each year are caused by burns, the vast majority occur in low- and middle-income countries. In Madagascar 85% of people live without access to electricity, meaning that cooking with open flame is a way of life. Of course, when more people must utilize open fires the potential risk for injury, or even death rises. People, very often children, can be severely burned in accidents involving these fires, resulting in scarring that reduces mobility. Many cases of severe burns require skin transplants to release burn contractures and restore range of motion.
In the developed world when we think of Plastic Surgery we are quick to confuse this term with the controversial world of Cosmetic Surgery. While both Cosmetic Surgery and Plastic Surgery deal with improving a patient’s body, the philosophies guiding the outcomes are different. Cosmetic Surgery focuses on enhancing appearance while plastic surgery focuses on repairing defects to reconstruct a normal function and appearance. Plastic Surgery means a second chance at life for many of the patients the Africa Mercy is currently treating in Madagascar.
Technology in the field of Plastic Surgery is allowing the Mercy Ship plastics team to provide patients relief from pain and disfigurements. If you remember the story of 3-year old Santa, it is easy to recall an example of how plastics allowed a future for a little girl who was left with contracted skin that prevented the mobility of her neck after being burned by hot water. Thanks to a free surgery provided by Mercy Ships Santa has recovered and today has even been able to go to school for the first time.
Her surgery, like many burn victims who are cared for on the Africa Mercy, was performed under local anesthesia (sometimes general anesthesia is also used) in an operating room on board the ship. Severe burns require skin transplants to release burn contractures and restore range of motion. Care is given to the patients both before and after their surgery. Typically the patient is admitted several days prior to surgery and remains onboard in the inpatient ward where nurses can closely monitor their progress until they can be transmitted to outpatient care.
Like all of the surgeries preformed by Mercy Ships, the process is holistic and designed to restore patients both mentally and physically. While nurses cared for Santa onboard they fell in love with her sweet mannerisms like the kisses she would blow once she felt comfortable on voard. Relationships like these allow patients that have been outcasts due to their lack of mobility and appearance to be reintegrated into society with love and support from the volunteer staff on board as well as other patients who share their conditions.
Surprisingly, healing is not just received by the patient. Like Santa’s Mother, many parents who have felt guilt from their child’s accident leave with a new sense of hope when they see their child’s recovery. She recalls “I was sad when I look at her and people around us a blamed me. They say it was my fault. I’m glad to know that Mercy Ships can help her. I thank God for that!”
Since docking on the shores of Toamasina in the Republic of Madagascar this August, the Plastics team onboard the Africa Mercy have performed over 100 Plastic Surgeries and hope to continue to provide hope and healing to the Malagasy people.