M-S 100,000th free surgical procedure

7-month-old patient receives cleft lip surgery onboard world’s largest nonprofit hospital ship

CONAKRY, Guinea (21 May 2019) — A baby born with a debilitating cleft lip in Guinea has received free surgery from international Mercy Ships volunteers, marking the nonprofit’s 100,000th surgical procedure onboard its charity hospital ships.

Aissata (EYE-sat-ah), a 7-month-old child, traveled with her mother approximately 350 kilometers to receive the surgery on the hospital ship the Africa Mercy, which has provided free surgeries to more than 2,100 people in Guinea since arriving in August.

For Mercy Ships, the milestone represents an important point in the nonprofit’s 40-year legacy. For Aissata, the free surgery changed the trajectory of her life.

“I have always been very worried about her future and what would happen to her if I didn’t get her the surgery she needs,” said Aissata’s mother, Hassanatou (Ha–SANA–tu). “But now that she has come here to the ship, I am no longer worried.”

Their family is among the world’s estimated 5 billion people who do not have access to safe, affordable, timely surgery. In sub-Saharan Africa specifically, 93 percent of the population can’t get the surgery it needs.

Mercy Ships addresses this global surgery crisis within Africa by sending hospital ships staffed by volunteers to the places where surgeons are needed most. These surgeons also train local medical professionals who will stay in their home countries, effecting change long after Mercy Ships departs. Mercy Ships has touched more than 2.7 million lives since 1978.

“Seeing Aissata’s new smile after her surgery is an image of the hope and healing we are working to provide for thousands of people in Africa who are without access to surgical care,” Mercy Ships founder Don Stephens said.

Dr. David Chong, a plastic surgeon from Australia, is one of nearly 400 volunteers currently serving onboard the hospital ship. Chong has been dedicated to transforming lives for the world’s forgotten poor, and he helped lead the operation for Aissata.

“Being part of this milestone is humbling, especially when you think about the incredible legacy that Mercy Ships has built over the past 40 years by healing thousands of patients like Aissata,” Chong said. “So many other volunteers have helped change lives for the better, and I’m proud to contribute to this powerful work.”

Aissata is fortunate to have had her cleft lip repaired as an infant. In the developed world, the condition typically is treated in infancy. But in places with limited access to surgery, many children simply cannot get treatment. The condition can lead to malnutrition if infants are unable to nurse, and it can lead to social exclusion or stigmatization as the children grow older. Thanks to her free treatment from Mercy Ships, Aissata won’t have to face those challenges.

“Our surgical program changes the entire course of our patients’ lives,” said Donovan Palmer, CEO of Mercy Ships. “And by forming partnerships with African nations, together we are building a powerful legacy of hope and healing that’s contributing to the overall development of West and Central Africa.”

Aissata was treated by the following medical volunteers serving with Mercy Ships:

Australia: David Chong (plastic surgeon) and Jill Sullivan (anesthetic assistant)

United Kingdom: Rachel Pollard (anesthesia provider)

United States: Phil Freeman (maxillofacial surgeon), Brian Barki (anesthesia supervisor)

New Zealand: Zhalmaine Tuya (OR nurse)

South Korea: Hanna Shim (OR nurse)

Malaysia: Catherine Lai (Ward nurse)

After Mercy Ships completes its fourth surgical visit in Guinea in June, the Africa Mercy will sail for Senegal in August.